Although surrounded by wealth and privilege in her stately Belle Meade home, Christina Hart is much like other teenage girls. Like them, she listens to Madonna, plays high school sports and entertains aspirations of becoming a model. Like them, she enjoys riding horses and seeing movies, one of her recent favorites being John Q., starring Denzel Washington.
But the 16-year-old Harpeth Hall sophomore has undergone a uniqueand terrifyingordeal that began nearly a year ago when she was raped by a boy she thought was a friend. From that point forward, mean-spirited peers doubted her and ridiculed her behind her back. She had to answer tough questions from police detectives and endure a brutal grilling on the witness stand. Late at night, she frequently woke up crying under the pressure. But last week Hart was vindicated when a juvenile court judge found her accused rapist guilty. The boy has not yet been sentenced.
Unlike many other teenage girls, who in the same situation might secretly blame themselves or fear some perceived stigma, Hart refused to be a silent victim. With the blessing of her divorced parents, she decided to share her story with the Scene in hopes that others will follow her example. Indeed, Hart is a friend of another Harpeth Hall girl who allegedly was raped earlier this year by three Montgomery Bell Academy students, who have since been expelled, although no charges have been filed against them.
“I feel like I can help girls come forward and not be scared,” she says.
Last Thursday, when Juvenile Court Judge Betty Adams Green ruled that Brock Luedtke, a former Father Ryan student, was guilty of rape, it capped an emotional and traumatic year for the young girl and her parents, who brought the charges. But throughout a process she describes as agonizing, Hart says that she never lost her resolve to bring her assailant to justice.
“He was a really good friend of mine,” she says. “But he hurt me, and I felt like he deserved to be punished for what he did.”
Her father agrees. A recovering drug addict and alcoholic, Rodes Hart also notes how proud he remains of his daughter for withstanding all the pressure and turmoil that comes with a rape case. “I want to tell a story about my daughter, my champion,” he says. “She’s as courageous as anyone I know.”
April 7, 2000, was a warm Saturday night, and Christina and her friends drank wine coolers, Zima and other alcoholic beverages. Christina’s mom could tell that she had been drinking and sent her to bed. But Christina and her friends managed to sneak outside onto the patio of her mother’s Hillwood home while her mom slept. Christina continued to drink, eventually becoming intoxicated, while her friends smoked pot. (Contrary to newspaper reports, Christina never testified that she smoked pot and still says that she did not.)
Around this time, a few boys came to her home, including Brock Luedtke. A handsome honor student at Father Ryan, Luedtke knew Christina from their days together at the elite Ensworth School, a kindergarten-through-eighth grade private school. The two were friends, but Christina says that they never dated.
At around 3 a.m., Christina went to bed and says she “passed out.” Witnesses later told police that she was “in a state that rendered her helpless.” Witnesses also confirmed that Luedtke followed her into the bedroom. Christina later told Metro Police Det. David Elliott that she remembered “coming to” and seeing Luedtke naked. And she testified in court that Luedtke’s penis was erect.
The next morning when she woke up, she was wearing only her skirt. She felt sore in her vaginal area, and there was blood on her bed clothes.
In a plainly spoken but effective opening statement outlining the case, Assistant District Attorney Jim Todd told Judge Green that Christina was not “forcibly raped.” Nor was she given a date rape drug, he conceded. But while Christina became inebriated on her own volition, she was nevertheless unable to give her consent to having intercourse with Luedtke. And, according to the law, that constitutes rape.
Nearly 10 days after the March 26 trial, Judge Green concurred, citing the testimony of both the victim and five other witnesses who gave a consistent story of their actions that April evening. Those witnesses, the judge pointed out, not only corroborated the victim’s claim that Luedtke was in her room, they refuted the defendant’s claim that there had been prior sexual contact between the two earlier that evening. “Even though the victim’s unconscious state was a result of her own actions, it is undisputed that she was in such a state and unable to give consent and that the alleged act did occur and that the defendant is the perpetrator,” Green wrote.
For Christina, the guilty verdict was the culmination of a protracted process of both maintaining sanity and pursuing justice. After the rape, she had confided in a school guidance counselor about what had happened. She had also talked with a friend who had been with her that evening. Christina felt like she wanted to press charges, but first she had to tell her parents. And that wasn’t going to be easy.
Nearly two weeks after the rape, Christina was in the car with her mother near their Hillwood home. “I was bawling. I said 'Mom, something happened a couple of weeks ago. I had some friends come over. Brock came over, and he raped me.’ ”
Sarah Hart remembers pulling her car over to the side of the road. “I thought I was going to get sick,” she says. “I started crying.”
Christina then told her dad, with whom she’s close. They say they talk about almost everything. After the April night, Rodes knew that something was wrong with his daughter, but he never suspected she had been raped. “I was aghast,” he recalls feeling when he found out. “I went through my instinctive cowboy reactions. On two different nights I ended up at Percy Warner Park throwing rocks, breaking sticks and yelling. I also prayed a lot.”
Christina and her parents later met with the police, along with prosecuting attorney Jim Todd. After a thorough police investigation, Todd felt they had a case. Meanwhile, Christina, who had never been an “A” student, was struggling to finish her freshman year at Harpeth Hall. “I couldn’t take my mind off what happened,” she says. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
And while she could count on the support of her family and most of her friends, not everyone empathized with her. “Most of my friends told me that I’d get through it, but others didn’t support me and they still don’t. They don’t believe anything I say. They think that I had sex with him and that I was ashamed and that I decided to call it 'rape.’ ”
She also had to confront her assailant. Police detectives, who had been very supportive of the young girl, had her call Luedtke to tell him that she was pregnant. She wasn’t, but the detectives thought that such a revelation might precipitate a confession from Luedtke. The boy played it cool and the phone call, which police taped, was for naught.
On June 22, Luedtke was formally charged with aggravated rape. His family retained attorney Ed Yarbrough, one of the top defense attorneys in town, to represent their son.
That summer was challenging for both Christina and her parents. She tried to live a normal life, working at the Green Hills Maggie Moos, an ice cream parlor, and taking a vacation in Florida. But every day was a struggle.
Christina didn’t suppress what had happened and, in fact, talked about it openly with her parents, friends and therapist. When she returned to school that fall, she began to make small, but important changes. She paid more attention to her classes and led a tamer social life. For a while, she says, “things even began to die down.”
But after Christmas, she had to prepare for what promised to be a grueling trial. Christina had to meet several times with prosecutor Todd to discuss the case. The two would talk about the trial and Todd even cross-examined her to prepare her for what she would endure on the stand. The attorney, known for his sarcastic but good-natured sense of humor, helped her relax. “Jim’s a goof, ” the dad recalls. “He’s very witty and very quick. He’s very engaging. And he’s very good at pulling a lot of tension out with humor.”
The tension, however, only continued to escalate. A few weeks before the trial, Christina was online when a friend of Luedtke’s sent her an instant message over the computer. He asked her when the trial would be. When she didn’t respond, he sent her another message. This time he called her a “lying slut.” And that wasn’t the only intimidation she faced. Sometimes, girls would call her and threaten to destroy her home. Christina says that she didn’t know who the girls were.
On Tuesday morning, March 26, Luedtke went on trial for rape. The first witness to testify against him was Christina. When examined by Todd, she carefully recounted in a shy, soft-spoken voice the events of that April evening. And while she might have appeared to lose credibility by talking about how much she had been drinking, her candor actually made her a believable witness. Here was a girl who made a mistake and became intoxicatedbut never was in a position to consent to having intercourse.
But under a predictably aggressive cross-examination from defense attorney Ed Yarbrough, Christina started to cry. The skilled lawyer, who helped successfully defend the main suspect in the infamous Marcia Trimble murder two decades ago, seized on Christina’s earlier statement that she was “scared.” To him, that suggested that she willingly had sex with Luedtke and was afraid to tell her mom.
At any moment, Christina could have capitulated, leaving the judge no choice but to set her assailant free.
But while the young girl sobbed, she continued to answer every question Yarbrough asked. She stuck to her storyeven when the defense went for the jugular.
“Did you find it easier to tell your parents that somebody had raped you than to tell them that you had been drinking too much, your friends were smoking pot in the house and you had sex with one or more of the boys in your bedroom?” Yarbrough asked in a stern, lawyerly voice.
“I did not make that up,” Christina replied. “I would not use that word to cover up other things that happened.”
When it was all over, some would say that the young girl got the better of the veteran attorney. Interestingly, Yarbrough never put his client on the stand. Yarbrough, speaking on behalf of his client, declined comment.
Christina saw her therapist the morning after the trial, then took off from school for a few days to go shopping in Atlanta with her mom. “Despite everything that happened, I have no regrets about doing this,” Rodes Hart says about supporting his daughter’s decision to press charges. “I think this has empowered her for the rest of her life.”
Both the Harts say that teenagers need to understand how abusing alcohol can ultimately change the course of their lives. “Christina told me that she shouldn’t have been drinking and that she shouldn’t have let the boys in the house,” Sarah Hart says. “She acknowledged her part in it, and it was helpful for me to hear that.”
Christina says she empathizes with the plight of other girls who have been in similar situations. “I think that some people don’t believe me because they don’t think this can happen to someone they know,” she says. “When people think of rape, they think of some man walking down an alley and a stranger jumping out with a gun. They don’t think of it as a friend coming into your bedroom.”
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