The 35-minute audio recording, as described in a Maryland courtroom Thursday, was horrifying.
“Hold her down,” a young man said.
The voice belonged to Cecil Burrows, 23, who was sentenced to 18 months in jail for his role in what prosecutors described as a gang rape of a nearly comatose woman in a townhouse in the Montgomery County community of Olney. Burrows not only recorded the rape, he called out instructions.
“Cecil, he like a coach,” one of the attackers could be heard saying.
Authorities have said the victim was probably drunk or drugged during the assault.
The sentencing of Burrows concludes a case that stretched over four years. It involved a once-menacing gang named Little R and at least two members who turned on each other. On Thursday, the backstory of Burrows’s life also emerged. He was born in Mumbai. When he was 4, his mother emigrated for the United States, leaving Burrows in India. He moved in with his grandparents, then with relatives who lived in a slum, according to his attorney. He came to Montgomery County when he was 12 and joined a gang.
“I felt a sense of love, connection and belonging in a way I never felt before,” Burrows said in court Thursday. “I also knew that to challenge them was to risk getting kicked out violently.”
In handing down the 18-month sentence, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Sharon Burrell was effectively imposing a term of three years and two months. That’s because Burrows had been in jail for 617 days since his arrest and agreed to forego being credited for that time at sentencing.
At slightly more than three years, though, the sentence for a second-degree sex offense was less than prosecutors sought. Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Mays asked for closer to 13 years, which was the maximum under an earlier plea deal he’d reached with Burrows’s attorney.
Mays said Burrows seemed to enjoy recording and coaching the assault. “Make no mistake about it, it was funny for him,” he said. “It was fun for him.”
Arguing for the longer sentence, Mays said, “This is about punishment. This is about incapacitation, taking a dangerous person out of circulation for as much time as possible.”
The judge had previous experience with Burrows, sparing him jail time in a 2011 theft case. On Thursday, before issuing the new sentence, Burrell indicated she wanted to make it in line with the punishments handed to others in the case.
The 2012 sexual assault case may never have come to light were it not for one of the Little R gang members showing a co-worker a “funny” video on his cellphone. The video appeared to show three men having sex with a woman who was “out of it,” the co-worker later told authorities.
Detectives obtained the phone and found the graphic video on it. Their investigation concluded a sexual assault had taken place in the townhouse where Burrows lived. Burrows told them he was out getting beer and not home during the assault, according to court records.
Burrows later testified at the trial of Andres Cortez, saying Cortez had been at his home on the night of the assault. Cortez was convicted in the assault. On July 3, 2014, a Montgomery County detective visited Cortez in Maryland state prison.
“Let me tell you about Mr. Burrows,” Cortez told the detective, according to a description of the conversation by prosecutors.
Cortez specifically said Burrows was home during the assault and recorded it.
That left police investigating their witness.
They searched Burrows’s home, seized a computer and found the recording. There was no video — only audio — apparently because participants thought that would be less risky to them.
The words alone, though, were incriminating.
“On the recording,” detectives wrote in court papers, “a female can be heard crying out and asking for them to stop. . . . About six minutes into the recording, a male voice can be heard remarking that she is sitting there like she is dead, then one subject asks in a louder voice, ‘Are you alive? Hello?’ ”
As the recording continued, court files show, Burrows could be heard giving instructions, at one point asking, “Who’s next?”
The victim could be heard screaming and saying in a slurred speech to stop, according to court records.
The attack devastated the woman, Mays said in court. “She got a life sentence,” he said. “She’ll never be the same.”
The prosecutor said to spare her going through another trial, he agreed to make a plea deal with Burrows that capped his longest possible sentence at 13 years.
Paolo Gnocchi, the attorney for Burrows, said in court that it was important to understand how his client grew up, how he became part of gang life and his recent strides.
Burrows was born Oct. 21, 1992, in Mumbai, and his father moved out when he was 2, according to a six-page report on Burrows’s background that Gnocchi submitted to the court. His mother left for the United States, leaving Burrows and his younger sister with grandparents, then other relatives in a home with no toilet on a dirt road until he and his sister came to Maryland as children.
“I just stayed quiet and didn’t know how to share anything with anyone,” Burrows told a private investigator hired by Gnocchi, according to the report. “It was very lonely and isolating.” A group of gang members “took him under their wing,” the report said.
Burrows got more involved in crime, and more and more connected to the gang. On the night he recorded the assault, Gnocchi said, Burrows was going along with events with his only friends.
Before his most recent arrest, however, Burrows’s attorney told the judge, “I think he truly had begun to turn his life around.” He had found work as a busboy and moved up to bartender at a restaurant, Gnocchi said.
Burrows is a lawful permanent resident but not a U.S. citizen, according to Gnocchi, who stressed to the judge that no matter what sentence she handed down, Burrows would be deported after serving his time.