June 28, 1996: Jana Dreyer was about to turn 14, and she didn't want to spend Friday night with her mom. A senior at Brenham High School was hosting a graduation party at a rental hall called Bilski's Camphouse that night. Jana wanted to attend the party instead. She and her mother argued about it. For one thing, there were dinner plans. For another, Jana was scheduled to do a modeling shoot for the Page Parkes agency in Houston early the next morning.
But Jana was willful, and eager to start hanging out with the older high school crowd. She'd been back in Brenham for only a single school year after eight years in Dallas. Jana would be a freshman once summer ended. She was ready to start meeting her peers for the next four years.
Jana finally won out when she provided assurances that she would be chaperoned by her boyfriend and his father.
Jana rode to the party with the young man and his dad. There were maybe 350 people there, a lot of recently graduated seniors and some older kids from local Blinn College, where Jana's grandfather was athletic director (Blinn's baseball field, which he designed, was named after him).
Jana knew a few people present, but not most. Kids wandered the grounds and talked in cliques and dived into the camphouse refrigerator for the vodka and Everclear Jell-O shots that seemed to be the party's intoxicant of choice. The parents present mostly drank beer.
Jana stuck with the Jell-O shots. She says she probably downed eight or nine during the evening. Mingling, she lost track of her date and his father in the crowd and was introduced by a friend to a group of boys.
Standing around a keg were soon-to-be-seniors Matt Kenjura, the star quarterback of the Brenham High School Cubs, baseball team captain Matt McIntyre, their friend Bryce Pflughaupt, and a fourth, younger boy. If there was an in crowd at Brenham High -- and there was -- this was it.
Jana already knew who they were. Her friend Lindsay Thaler had an older brother the same age as Kenjura, McIntyre and Pflughaupt, and Thaler had brought a yearbook into English class to show Jana how cute she thought the boys were, especially Pflughaupt. The two girls had written notes back and forth about the older boys.
The boys suggested leaving the party to grab something to eat. Jana, feeling the effects of the Everclear and having lost her ride, asked if she could get a lift home. They piled into Pflughaupt's Ford Explorer. Jana sat in a backseat, leaning her head back on the rest with her eyes closed, trying to maintain a drunken equilibrium as the Explorer bumped down the dirt road away from Bilski's and back to the pavement.
Jana remembers seeing trees and then noticing a lack of lights passing overhead. She asked where they were going. One of the boys told her not to worry, they were just going for a little drive. And then the Explorer stopped. Jana recognized that they were somewhere on the manicured grounds of the Brenham Country Club, just outside the city limits. Her family held a membership.
The boys got out of the Explorer. Jana thinks they were popping open cans of beer. She said she wanted to lie down. Needed to sleep. Her head was pounding. One of the boys flipped a lever and folded down the seat so Jana could crawl into the back and rest.
She heard voices outside the Explorer, as if from a distance, in the drunken way in which you can hear people talking, but not what they say. She nodded off.
She nodded back in when a light above her in the truck's cargo bay came on. McIntyre had opened the Explorer's hatchback. He was crawling into the back with Jana, on top of her, kissing her neck and fondling her. Jana told him to leave her alone, she just wanted to sleep. McIntyre continued. Jana tried to shove him off but couldn't. She says her head felt like a stone and her arms would barely follow her wasted brain's commands. She said no, but he didn't stop. She felt her pants being pulled off, and her panties; her shoes must have already gone. She said don't, leave me alone, I don't want to do this, and then, suddenly, the 13-year-old girl was no longer a virgin.
She remembers Kenjura, the quarterback, yelling at McIntyre to hurry up, he wanted his turn, and then shortly, he got it. She remembers his eyes being cold and sweat dripping off his face into her eyes, and finally ceasing to struggle, biting her lip and pretending that this was happening not to her, but to somebody else. She remembers the younger boy saying to his friends that this wasn't right, we shouldn't be doing this, and being ignored, just like Jana.
When it was over with, she had to pee. She climbed out of the truck, stumbled, caught herself on the bumper, and then someone pushed her to the ground. She crawled for a moment, got back to her feet and walked away some distance to urinate on the ground. When she got back to the truck, she got in the backseat and asked the boys again to take her home. She remembers that Bryce Pflughaupt was angry about the blood in the back of his Explorer. She asked what time it was, and one boy pointed to the radio, tuned to 104.1 FM, and told her it was 10:41. Jana knew it was later than that.
The boys drove back toward Bilski's Camphouse, and halfway there McIntyre suggested dropping the "whore" on the side of the road. His girlfriend was still at the party, expecting a ride home, and he didn't want her to see him with Jana in tow. Another of the boys, Jana doesn't remember which, nixed that idea, and they eventually dropped her off on the dirt road leading to Bilski's. An acquaintance found her there, tearful and shaking, and after half an hour of cajoling, drove her home.
When Jana came through the front door of her mother's house, her knees buckled and she fell into a wall. She remembers trying to hide her face so her mother wouldn't know anything was wrong. She doesn't remember how she got upstairs to her bed. She woke the next morning with a splitting headache, a modeling appointment to meet and an achingly naive hope that, just maybe, the worst of it was over.
Three years later, the worst of it, perhaps, is finally over.
Jana Dreyer is 17 years old now, blond, pretty, round of face. She lives in an upscale apartment complex north of Houston with her pretty, blond mother, Janet. She's enrolled at a new school now she'll be a senior this fall and is making new friends, what she calls "true" friends, most of whom already know her story, because she wants them to like her, if they're going to like her at all, for who she is, and part of who she is was raped. She's playing soccer again and has been known to take the left forward position on her high school team, but given her preference, she prefers the role of goalie, which she plays in an extracurricular league.
Talking about that June night and its aftermath, she puffs nervously on a Benson and Hedges cigarette, apologizing for reverting to her bad habit under stress. She rolls her eyes when her mother speaks of a religious faith that has given them the strength to come this far. There is more than a teenager's standard skepticism in the gesture. There is hardened dismissal. Jana insists on talking outside, at a patio table by the community pool. She cannot stomach being in an enclosed room alone with a man, no matter how well she might know him.
She has never spoken in depth about her experience with anyone, she says, but her family, certain close friends and a psychologist. This is partly because as an underage victim in a sexual assault case she was largely shielded from the local, state and national media that descended on Brenham once her allegations were made public. But it is mostly, she says, because what she had to say was so quickly overshadowed by the power struggle that overtook the town, setting prominent old Brenham families at each others' throats and throwing political and social alliances into stark relief.
Initially, Jana kept quiet. But several days after that June night in 1996, at a church campout on Lake Travis, she confided the events of the previous Friday to a youth minister, who called Jana's mother to come and talk to her daughter. Word got out among Jana's fellow campers, and from there it spread through the summertime diaspora of Brenham High School students, who led the charge to assign blame. It would not be attached to the school's goldenest of boys.
Jana wasn't unknown in Brenham. She had grown to the age of five there, before moving with her mother to Dallas for eight years, and even then, she spent her summers with grandparents in Brenham, suiting up for the local swim team. She'd moved back to Brenham full-time for her eighth-grade year and hoped to graduate from Brenham High, like her mother before her. Still, compared to the school's upperclassmen, she was the new girl, and a mere freshman at that. If there was fault, according to the kids, it would be hers.
Jana started getting phone calls at home, mostly older girls, friends of the boys, calling her a slut and a whore. Taunters wrapped the house in toilet paper and jammed plastic picnic forks into the lawn.
The harassment got so bad that Jana called on her father in Houston, Don Miller, with whom she had had little contact; he and her mother had divorced shortly after Jana's birth. Her dad, according to Jana, is a controlling sort with a take-charge attitude, which is precisely why she called him. She needed to feel protected. In hindsight, she says, calling her dad was one of the biggest mistakes she made.
Don Miller charged into town full of righteous anger, convinced Jana to press charges and then went to the county sheriff to report the crime, seven weeks after the fact. Jana remained uncertain about pressing charges. She remembers an assistant district attorney telling her that it didn't matter if she gave a statement or not. The D.A. was going to proceed regardless. She remembers him saying, "These boys have done this before."
Detective Billy Ruemke a local man, 22-year veteran of the force and onetime Brenham High School classmate of Janet Dreyer's was called in to take the case. Detective Ruemke called in a Texas Ranger to assist, and the two began interviewing potential witnesses, attempting to establish a reliable time line of events. The time line was crucial. If the sex occurred before midnight, then Jana was 13 at the time, and by state statutory rape laws, legally incapable of granting consent. Open-and-shut case. But if the sex took place after midnight, then Jana was technically 14, opening the victim to the counterclaim that it wasn't rape at all. That she wanted it. That would be a different sort of case altogether.
At his desk at the Washington County Jail, Ruemke is tall even sitting, lanky, drawling and careful with his words. For the length of an hour-long interview, he methodically pops the top off a clear film canister and pops it back on.
"We more or less got a time line down as to the thing happening before midnight," he says. The D.A., who convened a grand jury even before Ruemke had finished taking statements, took the time line and ran with it. Two of the boys didn't deny penetrating Jana Matt Kenjura had even visited the Dreyer house to explain to Jana's mother what happened providing an admission in the statutory rape case. That admission also was key; with the incident being reported almost two months after the fact, says Ruemke, "There's really not a crime scene to work."
Ruemke did track down Pflughaupt's Ford Explorer through registration records. It was sitting on a used-car lot in Brenham. It had been traded in. The D.A.'s office advised Ruemke that after all that time, it probably wasn't worth his while to impound the vehicle as evidence. So Ruemke didn't.
But even without a crime scene or direct physical evidence, on September 5, 1996, a Washington County grand jury returned indictments against Kenjura, McIntyre and Pflughaupt for the felony of aggravated sexual assault. Indictment papers state that Kenjura and McIntyre were found to have "intentionally and knowingly cause[d] the penetration of the sexual organ (vagina) of Jana Leigh Dreyer" with their own penises. Pflughaupt was found, in an oddly worded attempt to paint the boy as a nonparticipant conspirator, to have knowingly caused the penetration of Dreyer's vagina with Kenjura's penis. It was only the first of the case's unlikely legal twists.
Dr. Virginia Collier was then and remains the superintendent of Brenham Independent School District. Collier is a slim, intelligent woman with hair whiter than her actual years would suggest and some 5,000 students in her charge. And even though in a previous job her Austin-area school had been at the center of a Supreme Court decision regarding a teacher found naked with his 15-year-old student, she was appalled at what might be going on in her high school even before anyone had heard the name Jana Dreyer.
"We had some rumors two or three weeks before. The sheriff's department had stopped by and said for some months now we've been hearing that there's a group of boys out there that maybe are selecting girls to go out and have little gang bangs with."
Collier remembers that the sheriff had a list of names, and Kenjura, McIntyre and Pflughaupt were "part of it, but not all of it."
The group was known as the Male Whores Club.
"It's not too often that the police will alert us to that kind of thing," says Collier. "It was kind of like here's the rumor, and the first evidence we had that there might have been some truth to the rumor was this dramatic incident. Which kind of blew everything up, and then who's worried about the rumor in all that stuff?"
According to detective Ruemke, the existence of the so-called club was never proved, and the rumors remain unconfirmed.
Collier remembers the day the indictments came down. The Cubs had a football game scheduled for that night, and Kenjura was scheduled to quarterback.
Collier was also aware that a new law had recently been enacted in Texas. That law said that if a superintendent had reason to believe that a student was guilty of conduct punishable as a felony, she was required to place that student in an Alternative Education Program, off the main school campus. The law had been designed largely to separate the perpetrators and victims of school-ground sexual assault.
This would be the district's test case for the new law and Collier's first experience as a de facto judge and jury. It would not be an easy task. Students in the alternative program were not allowed to participate in school sports. Placing the boys in AEP would effectively sideline their senior careers as scholarship-bound athletes. Counseled by lawyers that she could not rely on the grand jury indictments to remove the boys from the high school, Collier let that night's game go on as scheduled, with Kenjura at the helm (the Cubs lost), and immediately launched her own independent investigation with cooperation from the sheriff's department and the D.A.'s office.
Collier came to the conclusion that there were enough undisputed facts the age difference between Jana and the boys, Kenjura's admission that sex took place to demand action.
On September 14, Collier decided to place the boys in AEP and made herself, perhaps after Jana, the least popular woman in town.
The boys' parents appealed the decision to the school board, insisting that the boys' previously spotless criminal records and prominent achievements be taken into consideration. The board took note but days later upheld Collier's decision.
It was "one of the most heart-rending things I've ever seen," says Collier now of the board members' decision to take the boys out of school.
"Because you're talking about men who grew up with [the boys' parents]. I mean they grew up together, they went through school together, they raised their babies together, and lifelong friendships ended that night. It was very clear the board was feeling tremendous pressure from members of the community. "
It's a pressure that follows Collier to this day.
"I had a task that I considered extremely hard to carry out, and that was to carry out the law. And I know full well there are people in this town who will never, ever forgive me and despise me until the moment I leave. There are people here who would tell you today that they will never forgive me for that, and they can't be objective about anything I do or anything I propose because of that. Until I am not here, it will never end."
Collier says she plans to resign after the coming year. Asked if her intention to depart is related to the frustrations of working in a community at odds with her three-year-old decision, her response is measured: "I won't say they are unrelated."
Jana, meanwhile, was feeling a different sort of pressure. The harassment had taken an ugly turn. Seniors came to school with "Burn in Hell Jezebel" scrawled on their car windows and drove by Jana's house, yelling the phrase out their car windows. At the homecoming game, a group of students tried to burn Jana in effigy on the traditional bonfire.
"I'll tell you what's more shocking," says Collier. "I had parents try to tell me that it didn't have anything to do with her. It was just their favorite song and they just happened to be singing it when they were driving by her house. That's what was shocking."
The harassment finally became so bad that District Attorney Charles Sebesta called Collier. His message: If the harassment of Jana didn't stop, Sebesta was going to start arresting students for intimidating his witness and interfering with his investigation.
Collier called an assembly of the senior class, some 300 students, and told them what Sebesta had said. Jana didn't go to school that day. Collier had given her a week off.
Asked what might account for the exceptional venom directed toward Jana, most of it from senior girls, Collier recounts something a female student told her.
"One of the girls made a statement to me that at some level [the senior girls] were very angry that [Jana] would be out there sleeping that's the polite word for saying it with these guys without their permission. That somehow this was a social kind of thing, where some of these girls almost approved of who these boys were going to take out or not take out. [Jana] was over here in their turf, and they didn't like that at all. She was just a freshman, and she wasn't part of their social group. They didn't know her. She wasn't in."
In essence, by being raped Jana had invaded the older girls' turf?
"I hesitate to say it, it sounds so twisted, but truly that was one of the strong impressions I got."
The rumors kept coming from all directions, and since by this time all the boys had hired lawyers whose job was to protect the boys by trashing Jana's credibility it became difficult to sort which rumors came from where.
Jana would hear them at school, or in town, or from friends who'd heard them in the same places.
There was the rumor that Jana had moved back to Brenham from Dallas because she'd gotten in too much trouble in the big city as a 12-year-old prostitute. There was the rumor that her mother had been at the Bilski's Camphouse party as well, in the backseat of a car, fucking two Blinn undergrads.
Jana began to fall apart.
"I totally shut down my feelings of any sort. I almost became numb. You could have probably hit me and I wouldn't have cried. I lost all feeling whatsoever of anything except hate. The only feeling I had was hate, and that was about it. I hated the world. I hated everyone in it. I hated myself.
"I pretty much secluded myself from my family. Either I was in the room with my door shut or in my closet. I wouldn't talk to anybody. I guess my family felt I needed my space. I don't think they really knew how to deal with me. I would pretend I was far away and it was just my own world and no one was around to hurt me, no one was around to talk to me. No one could do anything to me."
Attending class every day while her mother worked in Houston, Jana began filling water bottles with straight vodka and drinking at school.
She developed a cocaine habit. She liked the fact that the powder numbed her nose, and the false confidence it gave her to talk.
She got "into" self-mutilation, cutting her arms with knives and gouging with paper clips. "To see that something could actually heal up, you know? You get a scab, and then it goes away. That gave me comfort in some way."
In December she swallowed 48 capsules of amoxycillin and penicillin and passed out. Her mother found her and took her to the hospital.
The hospital visit spawned another school-yard rumor, that Jana had been taken to the hospital after she tried to stab her mother with a butcher knife.
Just before the end of her freshman year, "when the media started getting really bad," she slashed both of her wrists, and again her mother found her in time. She was sedated instead of hospitalized, and the combination of tranquilizers, vodka and coke kept her in a wired haze for weeks. She went back to Dallas to stay with an aunt and uncle for part of the summer and then took family trips to South Padre Island and Galveston.
When she returned to Brenham for her sophomore year, things seemed to ease up a bit. The seniors were graduated and gone. News about the case made the Brenham Banner Press now and then, but not in the daily barrage that had followed the initial allegation.
Still, Jana says, "I was really depressed. I would become really confused. I didn't understand my feelings. I didn't understand my mood swings." Her therapist provided a cancer-patient analogy. Jana would go in and out of "remission."
"I'd be really good, and then I'd get down to being really, really bad."
Doctors prescribed medication, but Jana refused to take it.
She "did really good" until the end of that school year, and then something inside snapped. Her anger toward the boys for the rape, toward her father for pushing the allegations into the public light, toward a student body that had turned on her Jana found all that balled-up anger and aimed it squarely at the only person still standing close enough to receive it: her mother. She blamed her for driving to Houston every day to work while Jana shouldered the burden at school. She blamed her mother for saving her life when she thought she no longer wanted to live.
"I really hated my mother. I wanted no part of her whatsoever. I told her the closest thing she came to being my mother was on a birth certificate. I was quite cold."
Jana tried to kill herself with pills again in January of her sophomore year, and her mother found her yet again. This time she was shipped off to a "therapeutic" boarding school in California for the last four months of the school year at $10,000 a month.
"What they do is they stick you in a room and tell you that you're pretty much bad, that everything that happened to you is pretty much your fault."
When Jana returned to Brenham that summer, she says, she had a new attitude, at least toward her mother:
"If I would not have had her through this, I would not be living."
Meantime, at the Washington County Courthouse, the prosecution's case was coming under fire.
Matthew Kenjura's parents had hired high-profile Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin, a Washington County property owner and friend to Kenjura's mother, to defend Kenjura. DeGuerin set about collecting evidence intended to torpedo Jana's credibility. He subpoenaed the records custodian of Houston's Page Parkes School of Modeling for a copy of the school's "dossier" on Jana Dreyer, including everything from her application to her course evaluations to her photographs. He subpoenaed Brenham High School principal Jon Forsythe to surrender all school records pertaining to Jana.
He presented a case to the media in which sex occurred, but it was consensual sex, instigated by Jana, and besides, this 13-year-old-versus-14-year-old issue was ridiculous hair-splitting, Jana was moments from 14 if not in fact 14, and besides it didn't matter, because the girl was asking for it, and the boys simply did what any red-blooded American boys would do with a girl who's asking for it.
DeGuerin made loud noises about going federal with the issue of the boys' "unconstitutional" banishment to the Alternative Education Program.
The Brenham Banner Press bemoaned the divisive presence of flashy outsider lawyers and dutifully printed DeGuerin's every utterance.
For a while, D.A. Charles Sebesta stood firm. For every DeGuerin outburst, there was a Sebesta press conference, repeating yet again what the law unambiguously stated: Girl under 14 years of age. Consent legally impossible.
But Charles Sebesta wasn't having an easy time of it either. As a prosecutor for the state, he was bound to serve the state's, and thus Jana's, interests. He had been handed what looked like a reasonably uncomplicated rape case. But what looked like a reasonably uncomplicated rape case was quickly turning into a circus, with bright lights and defendants who didn't want the negative publicity.
Matthew Kenjura's father, Atwood, owns Kenjura Pharmacy in Brenham. He is also a former baseball protégé of Jana Dreyer's grandfather, the athletic director at Blinn College. Kenjura is a member of the board at Blinn College. When you graduate from Blinn, Atwood Kenjura signs your diploma. Bryce Pflughaupt's dad owns Pflughaupt Tire Service. The signage of both businesses looms large over Brenham.
"I knew who the Dreyers were," Sebesta says. "I knew one of the boys' fathers, the druggist Kenjura. I knew the grandfather of the Pflughaupt boy, simply through Rotary in Brenham. I was a Rotarian at the time, and I saw him regularly." Later, about the fourth boy, who testified for the prosecution in exchange for immunity, Sebesta says, "Actually I probably know his father as well as any of them."
On the other hand, Sebesta had to deal with Jana Dreyer. And perhaps more relevant, with Jana's parents. Don Miller, by most accounts, was a media hog.
"He wanted to do interviews and stuff like this, and of course I never did them," Jana says now. "My father's more after smearing these people than anything, I think. My father doesn't know how to deal with things. He doesn't think about them, he just goes out and does it. He pretty much made a mockery of this whole thing." Don Miller, according to Sebesta, wanted the boys locked up and the key buried in the Brazos River muck.
Janet Dreyer wasn't much easier to deal with. She had been a beauty queen at Brenham High, a popular girl in school, her family went back in Brenham as many generations as anyone's. The drumbeat of harassment pounding Jana beat on her too.
"I think that was my mom's biggest thing," says Jana. "She didn't want people to think, 'Oh, we're guilty, so we're just going to run.' She didn't want to leave because of what people might say. To prove, I guess, we're strong, or something like that."
Charles Sebesta is a tall, rangy, vaguely rural-seeming man in a white short-sleeve shirt with gray in his sideburns and a manner that inspires trust partly through a tendency to go off the record and state opinions that, for want of a better explanation, he is not prepared to defend publicly.
Sebesta welcomes an interview in his office in the Burleson County Courthouse in Caldwell. When he started his career as a D.A., he covered four counties, but as districts have been rearranged, his purview has fallen to two: Washington and Burleson. In the aftermath of the politically charged Dreyer case, he won re-election unopposed.
On the record, he now says, "We really didn't know the scope of what had happened for a while."
What he means by this is that having, in his own words, "pressured" Jana to file charges, and having gotten three grand jury indictments against the boys, new "evidence" came to light that made the prosecution's case seem less certain.
That evidence lay largely in the eighth-grade English class notes Jana had passed to Lindsay Thaler. The letters that mentioned the defendants by name and reflected sexual fantasies about the boys.
"I had another dream where I fucked M and M and M.K. separately," Jana had written. "I remember that I was at the country club with M.K. and he was a lifeguard and I had just gone swimming and went to take a shower and it wouldn't turn on and the water wouldn't come out. So I had to get M.K. and he came and helped me and we fucked."
This and other letters were read in December by Bryce Pflughaupt's attorney, Jim James of Bryan, in a hearing to have the conspiracy charges against his client dismissed.
The indictment was withdrawn.
"Ah, the letters," says Jana now. "I can very well explain that."
And since she never got the day in court that she wanted in order to tell her side of the story, let her explain at full length.
"I was in the English class with a girl, Lindsay Thaler. She was very popular. Her brother was going to be a senior with these boys, and she brought a yearbook to school and showed me pictures of these guys, and she thought they were so cute. She was in love with Bryce Pflughaupt. I guess, I don't know, it was like making stuff up. Just writing. None of it was true. I only wrote them in eighth grade. I was just making up stuff just to keep the conversation with her. She wrote back. It was nothing that I meant, no intention of it, I just wrote as if I was making up something, like writing a book. So, I mean, none of it was true. It was quite explicit. 'I want to have sex with them,' and she'd write back and say the same thing too. Girls talk about that all the time. You never really meant it it was just a topic of conversation, you know? You want to seem cool, you want to seem popular. That's what they talk about, so that's what you write about. It held no truth whatsoever."
To the media, the letters made an unlikely scenario plausible: The 13-year-old's notes about a fantasy suggested that she consented to be gang-banged. The Houston Chronicle laid out a rape scenario beside a consent scenario, asking in each case: "Is this what happened?" Texas Monthly backed away from the question of guilt entirely and portrayed the case as the unfortunate teenage side effect of the baby-boomer generation's lax morals.
To Sebesta, the letters rang a death knell. He rushed into bargains with Kenjura and McIntyre that included nolo contendere pleas to the lesser and non-sex-related felony charge of injury to a minor. The Dreyers were not informed of the plea arrangement beforehand.
The two boys got deferred sentences of five years' probation with conditions attached: 100 hours of community service, $1,000 fines and apology letters to Jana Dreyer.
The Dreyer family, wanting a trial, was outraged.
And then Charles Sebesta recused himself from the case and asked that a special prosecutor be appointed.
He released statements to the media indicating that both parties shared blame for the incident. In the Dreyers' view, Sebesta copped out, using the letters, which even Sebesta now says were unlikely to be admissible in court, as an excuse to bow to the influence of the boys' families and the unsubstantiated but pervasive allegations put forth by Dick DeGuerin and the Brenham High School senior girls.
In any case, Sebesta clearly had come around to the idea that Jana instigated the "rape." Twice, in conversations about statutory rape laws, Sebesta placed events in the following context.
"If you look at the statistics Caldwell's a good example we probably have about ten girls a year that turn up pregnant that are in high school, and I suspect that six or so of those fall in that category of over three years [age difference between the partners]. We don't ever see those cases. I mean, we know they happen. Nobody ever follows up on those cases. The only time that we see cases of this nature are situations where there's a boy going with a girl that the parents don't want her to go with. A mixed-race situation. Where it's the parents that are making an issue of it."
The lumber that Sebesta is hammering so roughly, of course, surrounds the head of a nail: He has decided, along with the rest of Brenham, that Jana's testimony is not credible.
In his motion for recusal, Sebesta included several reasons for his decision.
"I think you'll find one real interesting one in there," he told me.
"We had all these allegations that Sebesta had in his motion that there had been some sort of attempt to shake down the families for money on the part of Ms. Dreyer. I mean there was zero evidence of that. None of the accused boys or their families ever came forward with that allegation. But it was in all the papers."
The speaker is Houston attorney Larkin Eakin Jr., the special prosecutor appointed to succeed Sebesta.
Where did the allegation come from?
"That's a real good question. That's a very good question. I would still like the answer to that question.
"It was a constant drumbeat over there from the radio stations and the newspaper. It's the reason that I moved to change venue [a motion that was denied]: that the cards were steadily being stacked against the victim."
And who was doing the stacking?
"It's a small town. There are a lot of interconnections and business interests. The boys were all from prominent families. Some of which advertise."
What Eakin is suggesting is a theory long espoused by Jana's family: that business and social ties between the Kenjura family, the Pflughaupt family, Charles Sebesta and the ownership of the local radio and newspaper outlets conspired to create an atmosphere in which Jana, and not the boys, was put on trial. It's a theory seconded by several independent sources, but always off the record.
"You did have a steady drumbeat over there against the victim, and she certainly lost the publicity wars at the outset of this case," says Eakin.
And in fact, while Pflughaupt's second grand jury deliberated, local radio stations KTTX-FM and KWHI-AM broadcast Jana Dreyer's name, which had until then been protected in media coverage.
In Eakin's view, the overturned indictment against Pflughaupt had little to do with the infamous letters, which he felt would never prove admissible in a court of law. It had been a result of Sebesta's awkwardly worded charge that Bryce Flughaupt had caused the penetration of Jana Dreyer with Matthew Kenjura's penis.
"The judge, I think rightly, said this doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense."
Eakin revised the charge to conspiracy to commit sexual assault and resubmitted it to the grand jury after Jana's letters had been made public and was rewarded with yet another indictment.
"Of the work we did," says Eakin, "it was probably the most important part of the case to me to make sure that the two boys we had direct evidence had actually assaulted a minor and the minor recollected their assault and could testify about that it was important for us to at least hold what we had at that point, which was the plea that Charlie had taken in the case."
Eakin made the plea stick, but having done that, there was nothing much else for him to do regarding Kenjura and McIntyre. He tried to take the Pflughaupt charge as far as he could but ended up accepting Pflughaupt's misdemeanor plea for probation with the same conditions as Kenjura and McIntyre.
"This was the case," says Eakin, "from hell."
Even with the case essentially over, with all three boys having entered pleas of nolo contendere to reduced charges, the movement to paint Jana as a slut gathered steam. Suddenly people were talking about Jana's own "100 Club," the supposed diary list the 13-year-old girl kept of all the boys she was going to sleep with, and it seemed no one remembered the Male Whores Club. Somehow, it just made more sense that the 13-year-old girl was stalking older guys for group sex than the other way around.
Still, Jana spent the three years after the rape living in Brenham and attending the high school.
"I chose to put up with that, at my own expense. I lost a lot by staying there. But I wanted to prove to myself that I could stay there. I told myself they're never going to see me cry, and I made sure that they didn't."
Finally, though, Jana had enough.
"I wanted people to look at me and not think, 'Oh, you know, this happened to her.' I wanted them to look at me and like me for me and get to know me for me and not to have any prejudgments on me because of what they might have read in the paper or in Texas Monthly or anything else.
"That's what I wanted, and I was never going to get a fair shake in Brenham. And I think it took me three years to figure that out, that I should have left the day after, I should have left a long time before. I think part of me knew that, but yet a part of me wanted to prove to the girl in the mirror that I could stay and I could get through this and be okay, which it was never going to happen."
When a friend asked her why she stayed, she realized she wanted to be gone. So four months ago, she took her car, a gas card, a bottle of No-Doz and two cartons of cigarettes and set off unannounced for Los Angeles to see an uncle, and perhaps to stay. She drove all night and made it across the New Mexico border before stopping to call her grandmother back in Brenham. Jana's family asked her to come back home, and she did.
"Just the drive itself I saw places. I really let go of it. I said, I'm going to live my life and I'm not going to let it keep destroying me. I mean, I felt two and a half years of holding onto it was long enough, and I let it go. And I forgave my mother. I forgave everyone for what happened. And I said, I'm going to be a better person, and that's what I did. Just being by myself, I let go of it.
"The next day I told my mom, I'm not living there anymore. It did me no good ever living in Brenham." That next weekend, Janet and Jana left for a new school and a new life in Houston.
"I guess now all I want is my life back to normal, and I have that here. I have a normal life here. I don't want money. I don't want anything from it. There's nothing [else] that I want out of this."
The boys' five-year probation sentences were quietly dismissed in November 1997 after only 13 months served. Records are unavailable as to whether any of the boys fulfilled community service hours. Jana says that she has never received any of the court-stipulated apology letters, not that she cares much either way at this point.
Meanwhile, Kenjura and Pflughaupt have each filed petitions for expungement of their records. Hearing dates have yet to be set, and the Texas Department of Public Safety, custodian of such records, intends to fight the motions, but the final decision will rest with a Washington County judge's discretion.
According to state statutes, a person may be eligible for expungement if both of two conditions are met: no indictment is returned, or an existing indictment is dismissed. Neither case would seem to be applicable to Kenjura or Pflughaupt.
Contacted for comment, Matthew Kenjura's father, Atwood, replies: "We're just in the beginning stages of it, so it's too early to comment one way or the other. Just going through the system, that's all you can do. It was one of those things that should have never happened, but did, and so we're just trying to let the boys go on and have some kind of normal life. The boys, they want to put this behind them."
H.E. Pflughaupt, Bryce's father, says, "There won't be any comment from us on any of it."
And Matt McIntyre's mother, Pat, seemed upset at the mere mention of the case.
"Who's initiating this? And for what reason? Let me assure you of one thing. I don't know what your position is besides a writer with the Houston Press, I don't even know of the Houston Press, that doesn't mean anything. At the same time, I have no reason to even want us to be contacted. I can't imagine you want to bring this up. And you're initiating this? Who owns the Houston Press? I can tell you one thing. There better not be one thing in there and this goes for the Dreyers and whoever else is commenting on this, on your end there better not be one thing in there that's not right."
All three parents declined to provide access to their sons.
Attempts to learn whether, or to what extent, the boys' probation conditions have been satisfied were met with stony silence or worse. The Washington County probation office refuses to divulge that information, citing internal confidentiality standards. The question is referred to the Washington County District Attorney's office, where Charles Sebesta claims no knowledge and Assistant D.A. Ned Butler says he assumes the conditions have been met, but can't say for sure.
Informed that Jana Dreyer claims to have received no apology letters, Butler responds with a conspiratorial chuckle: "You've got some information you just told me, and you told me what the source was. My advice is to check your sources."
Three years after the fact, even the D.A.'s office that had prosecuted on Jana's behalf felt comfortable impugning her credibility, even on a black-and-white matter as simple as whether she'd received a letter.
And the fact, according to Eakin, is that Pflughaupt's letter, at least, has never been delivered.
"He was also to do a certain amount of community service work as part of his probation plea, which was going to be under the direction of the probation department over there, which I don't think has been completely accomplished either. So that case is still hanging fire just a little bit."
The case against Jana also seems to remain open in the mind of onetime Kenjura attorney DeGuerin, who says he has been off the case since Kenjura's plea of October 1996. Called for comment on the case and its aftermath, DeGuerin quickly offers his take:
"It's a damn shame that any of those guys got any kind of record at all from this thing. See, she's a sexual predator, in my opinion."
Later DeGuerin volunteers that since moving back to Houston, Jana had gone to work as a topless dancer, but when a manager discovered her age, she was fired. Asked for a source for this inflammatory information, DeGuerin says he can't remember, but insists: "It's good information."
"That's a new one," says Jana, compelled yet again to deny a sourceless rumor.
The boys, meanwhile, have all moved on to colleges in Texas.
In February of this year, Jana tried suicide a fourth, and she says final, time. She slashed her wrists again, badly enough to require cosmetic surgery to hide the scars. This time her mother had to break down a door to save her. Jana entered a rehab program and 12-stepped her way off cocaine, though she rolls her eyes still at the earnestness of 12-step programs. She says she's not drinking like she used to, that she doesn't need it the same way anymore.
"But I'm a teenager. This is my senior year. I'm not going to say I'm never going to drink again, because that's BS.
"I can say that I'm over everything, but even that's a lie itself. I still go through moments where I get really down. I get really depressed. But it's not a day-to-day pressure like it used to be in Brenham. I'm not confronted with this every day."
She's more concerned with the future now. She wants to attend college, keep playing goalie and eventually get a law degree. She's interested in international law and hopes to someday get into the mergers and acquisitions field with a firm with European offices. She'd like to live abroad. She says she will never practice criminal law, and never work for the government.
She still wishes she could have had her day in court.
"I wanted to sit there in the courtroom and look at them and tell my story. I felt like I had put up with all this shit for so long, at least give me my fair share at the end. Whether we lose or not, I think I should be able to at least have one day in court."
And she knows full well what she would have faced in that courtroom: the same accusation she has faced for three years outside of it. The accusation that she is a whore. Jana Dreyer knows what the word means.
"It means you're a liar. It means you wanted it. You were the one at fault. They don't believe you."
Meanwhile, Brenham, like Jana, is trying to get back to its quiet, normal life.
Superintendent Collier says, "Actually, it's a lot better. I really think the high school kids are a little better now than they were even three years ago. I think, for Brenham at least, there was some kind of a corner that was turned there, and whether it's that churches and parents became more aware and alert and started beginning to talk with their kids in a way they didn't talk with them before probably all those things happened. Everybody's reaching out to try to build some kind of safety net, a cocoon around kids, almost. I think the kids are, just in that three years, setting a higher moral standard for themselves. I really think they are."
Charles Sebesta, whose own daughter is now five years removed from high school, agrees.
"I think it awakened a community as to some of the problems that exist. I don't think there's any question that it brought about a different level of awareness in the community."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Jana begs to differ.
"Brenham portrays this perfect image that there's good there, nothing wrong ever happens. It's all a joke. It's all a facade. It's just something for people on the outside to say, 'Oh, this is a good community.' But I think inside there's a lot of corruption. A lot of hypocrites.
"I think through all of this I just really wanted an apology, which they never gave me. They never sat there and said, 'I'm sorry for what we did.' I never got anything except my name smeared all over the town. I was the one that got called a whore. I was the one that everybody said was in the wrong. And I didn't want that. They could go to jail for life and it wouldn't make me any happier. I mean, the town might actually realize that hey, maybe they did do something wrong, but it still doesn't change the fact of how I feel. And nothing can ever take away the damage that it's done to me.
"It was about a rape. You can't ever say it's okay, because it never is okay."