Hunting Camp Rape: Charles Cowart Turns Himself In; U.S. Marshals Hunting For 3 Remaining Suspects
FlaglerLive | October 31, 2013
Friday Update: Daniel Goggans was booked at the county jail at 9 p.m. Thursday. He turned himself in.
Charles “Skeeter” Cowart, one of the four men wanted in the alleged kidnapping and gang-rape of a woman in Flagler Beach and at the Cowart Hunting Camp in western Flagler County on March 20, turned himself in at the Flagler County jail early Thursday afternoon. U.S. Marshals are hunting for the remaining three suspects–Daniel and Frank Goggans, of 65 Leidel Drive in Palm Coast, and Kurt Benjamin of 31 Poinsettia Lane in Palm Coast.
“I would have thought Cowart was going to be the hardest one to find but he’s done the right thing, he’s turned himself in,” said Flagler County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Steve Cole, who heads the sheriff’s investigative division. “I feel pretty confident this is going to resolve pretty quickly,” he said of the impending apprehensions of the three remaining suspects.
Cowart’s bond was set at $150,000.
In an interview Thursday, Cole provided new details of the investigation and explained why the warrants for the four men’s arrests were not secured until last Friday–Oct. 25, seven months after the alleged rape.
“It took that long to actually put the investigation together,” Cole said–an investigation that sought to close as many loopholes as possible that the suspects could use in their defense, such as their claims, early in the investigation, that the intercourse that took place was consensual.
Even though the suspects were initially cooperating early in the investigation, investigators chipped away at their claims to be able to prove whether they were lying or being misleading–as the subsequent tracking of additional witnesses revealed, as did inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the suspects’ stories.
Investigators had a lot of forensic evidence, which proved both an advantage and a challenge in the investigation, also explaining the delay in concluding the investigation. “Probably the lengthiest part of the investigation was the forensic evidence, the DNA evidence collected from the exam. In this particular case with have four contributors,” Cole said. “Being there was a mixture of multiple donors, we actually had to go back and forth at the lab multiple times to have the stuff retested and have tests conducted on it that’s not normally done.”
The testing produced results linking most of the suspects to the evidence. “I’m not gonna say from each of the four, but from several of the suspects,” Cole said. DNA testing is notoriously slow and laborious. The testing was done by the crime lab at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Once that was accomplished, the sheriff’s office sought arrest warrants, which were signed by County Judge Melissa Moore-Stens (Judge J. David Walsh, who would have normally signed them, was not available.) Once the warrants were signed, the sheriff’s office began working with U.S. Marshals “to give them a head start” on apprehending the suspects, who are believed to be in or near Flagler County. But, Cole said, “that’s purely a guess.”
Cole categorically dismissed any notion that the sheriff’s office sought to delay the men’s arrest in any way. “That’s absolutely not true,” Cole said. “Our latest lab report from FDLE is from the 17th. We just wanted to make sure. On the flip side we don’t want them to build a defense saying the girl was drunk and she gave them consent, that type of thing. I know it’s frustrating and it took so many months but we wanted to make sure” the case would stand up in court. The State Attorney’s Office has not yet formalized the charges.
Cowart and both Goggans brothers are accused of raping the victim. Benjamin is accused of kidnapping. The sexual encounters began soon after the victim was reported to have left Finn’s, the bar in Flagler Beach, when she and the men are believed to have gone to a house the Cowart family owns in Flagler Beach, on the shore. No sexual activity is believed to have taken place in the house proper. Rather, it took place on the beach. It’s not clear at this point which of the men would have taken part. But it is clear that the activity that unfolded at the house caused enough of a disturbance that Flagler Beach police was called.
The men knew that the police were on their way. They hid in the area, waited for the police to leave, then got in a truck and left for the western part of the county, to the hunting camp, Cole said.
There, further sexual encounters unfolded.
The victim said she was drunk when she was at Finn’s. She says she has no recollection of what happened afterward, but she suspected she may have been drugged, having never in the past passed out from drinking. That possibility was studied, Cole said, but drugs used in cases of date-rape dissipate within a matter of six hours. Testing on the victim was conducted some 20 hours after the alleged attacks unfolded, when she returned home–driven by some or all of the men–and immediately reported the matter to her mother and to authorities.
Beside the trauma of the alleged attacks, the victim suffered “some minor bruising and scratching but nothing to the extent that she had to be put into the hospital,” Cole said.
But there never was consent. “She may not have been physically resisting or fighting, but anyone in their right mind should have known that what they were doing was wrong,” Cole said.
Anyone who has information on any of the suspects is asked to call the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office at 386-313-4911 or Crimestoppers at 1-888-277-8477. You may remain anonymous and you could be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.