Family and friends of three Beloit teens sentenced last week on sexual assault charges rallied Friday outside the Rock County Courthouse, saying the teens’ sentences were harsher than one given to a former substitute teacher.

The protesters believe the former teacher’s case indicates racism might have played a role in the teens’ sentences, despite their guilty pleas. The teens are black, and the former teacher is white.

Mar’Kai Payne, Brandon Perry and Tre’roryan Floyd all were 17 in March 2018 when they were accused of forcing a 15-year-old girl to perform sex acts.

Payne and Perry were sentenced last week to one year in the Rock County Jail. Floyd’s charges were held open, and he was sentenced to five years in prison for an unrelated burglary.

In August, Tyler Edge, a former substitute teacher at Beloit Memorial High School, was sentenced to 90 days in jail, 480 hours of community service and four years of probation after pleading guilty to charges that he repeatedly sexually assaulted a 15-year-old boy in 2017.

About 15 people showed up to protest at the courthouse Friday. Another protest is tentatively planned for October, said Lexi Payton, a friend of the Payne family.

“It was to bring light to what we feel was an unequal ruling,” Payton said of the protest.

Payton said protesters don’t understand how the sentences could be so different. She claims the victim in the teens’ case originally consented to the sex acts.

“Whether the age of consent is 16 or not, she consensually and willingly performed these sexual acts with them and then yelled rape,” Payton said.

“We really wanted to bring awareness and say, ‘Hey, that was assault, and he (Edge) got 90 days, but this girl willingly did this with these boys, and they got a year, and that’s not fair,” she said.

A Rock County District Attorney’s Office employee said Friday’s protest was peaceful but would not comment further.

Despite the teens’ guilty pleas, Payton said they hope to find a way to appeal the ruling.

“Ultimately, we want to have justice and have this looked at and reviewed and hopefully make this right for them,” she said.