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SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Prosecutors said on Tuesday they would drop a felony sex charge against a member of the Boise State football team in a sensational hazing case at a small-town Idaho high school.
Anthony Clarke, a freshman wide receiver for the powerhouse football program at Boise State, still faces misdemeanor charges, including three counts of false imprisonment, Bingham County Prosecutor Randy Smith said.
Clarke and four others were charged last month with forcible sexual penetration, battery and false imprisonment stemming from what prosecutors say was the 2009 abuse of fellow athletes on the high school basketball team in Blackfoot, Idaho.
The case has fastened attention on the 11,000-population town near Idaho Falls, Idaho amid a national debate about high school hazing, bullying and harassment.
In addition to Clarke and an unnamed juvenile, the accused were Nathan Walker, a tight end for the Idaho State Bengals; Logan Chidester, a freshman on the football team at Carroll College in Montana; and Tyson Katseanes of Blackfoot, all 19.
Katseanes' attorney, Brian Goates, told Reuters that his client had agreed to plead guilty to simple battery, a misdemeanor, and will face a year's probation as well as 20 hours of community service.
Katseanes and other stars of the high school's winning teams were engaged in little more than horseplay in incidents that happened in a locker room and on a school bus, Goates said.
Goates said the sexual hazing charges stemmed from an activity known as "schussing," which involves sticking a thumb or finger in someone's bottom, and that it was on a par with a prank like a wedgie. The false imprisonment charges stemmed from pinning victims in wrestler-type holds, he said.
Bingham County prosecutors have portrayed the accused as jocks who abused their power and popularity by preying on other members of the basketball team and were selective in their efforts to recruit more victims over time.
The case has wreaked havoc on the farming community which bills itself as the potato capital of the world.
"This has impacted us harshly on all sides of the issue: the defendants, the victims, the families," Blackfoot School District Superintendent Scott Crane has said. "We're a small town and it is very difficult to deal with."
Katseanes and the other adult defendants were scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Wednesday.
But legal negotiations Tuesday mean only Chidester and Walker will appear on felony counts of forcible sexual penetration with a foreign object.
Smith said the state on Tuesday agreed to drop from four to two the number of sex crime counts against the pair.
Felony charges also have been dropped against the juvenile defendant, who still is accused of misdemeanors in the case.
Katseanes, like Clarke, had been facing a single count of forcible sexual penetration, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Before Tuesday, all five defendants had pleaded not guilty to the lesser counts, including battery and false imprisonment.
Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune