Two young men could face life in prison after being convicted today in connection with the October 2009 gang rape of a 16-year-old girl outside of Richmond High School’s homecoming dance that drew national outrage. One jury today found 20-year-old Marcelles Peter of Pinole guilty of rape in concert, forced sexual penetration in concert and forcible oral copulation in concert with a special allegation of causing great bodily injury. Both defendants could face maximum prison terms of 33 years to life. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 15. As the jury filed into the courtroom before the first verdict was read, Peter, who was dressed in a blue-striped collared shirt with a tie and slacks, stood with his hands in his pockets and watched them. His attorney Gordon Brown put his arm around Peter’s shoulders as the verdict was announced. A short time later, a separate jury convicted 22-year-old Jose Montano, of Richmond, of the same charges. Neither defendant showed visible emotion as their respective verdicts were read.
The gang rape shocked the Bay Area, and Deputy District Attorney John Cope said during the trial that about 20 men and teenage boys were present as the victim was raped, beaten and robbed over a more than two-hour period. The victim was severely injured, suffering head wounds, a bone fracture, burns and hypothermia, Cope said. Her blood-alcohol level after the attack was 0.35 percent, he said. The case was heard in the Martinez courtroom of Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga. The courtroom was packed this afternoon with members of the media, police officers who had worked on the case and family members and friends of the defendants. The victim was not present in court today. Peter and Montano were prosecuted together in a rare dual trial with two separate juries, one for each of the defendants. Most of the testimony was given with both juries present, but closing arguments and other parts of the trial were heard separately. The jury for Peter deliberated for seven hours and Montano’s jury took about 11 hours to reach a verdict.
A 59-year-old man on Montano’s jury, who declined to give his name, said a few factors, including spotty testimony from young witnesses who were “either on drugs or alcohol,” made deliberations difficult. “A lot of them were kids, not adults,” he said. “I think all of us have kids, and I think that’s the thing that stuck in my mind.” The juror said that at the start of the trial, he did not want to believe Montano was guilty, but he was overcome by the evidence, which included both witness testimony and DNA results. Cope said he was pleased with the outcome of the trial and praised both juries for their diligent work on a difficult case. “From the very beginning, the public took this case very seriously. These are horrendous crimes,” he said. The prosecutor also credited the Richmond police detectives who conducted the investigation and the crime lab analysts who gathered the evidence presented at trial. “We had good, old-fashioned hardworking police work combined with scientific evidence — DNA,” he said.
Richmond police Capt. Mark Gagan was among a group of officers who worked on the case who attended today’s verdict hearings. He said he and his colleagues wanted to be there “to stand up for the victim and show we were really affected by what happened four years ago.” “Many of the officers who saw the victim at the scene and in the hospital really carry that image with them,” he said. He also said he was struck by the “cavalier attitudes” of some of the suspects during the investigation. At trial, Copep resented evidence indicating that while the victim lay unconscious, Montano pulled out a condom, put it on and raped her. The evidence included DNA found on two condom wrappers found at the scene — Cope said Montano went back to the scene to retrieve the condom used in the rape. Montano’s attorney, Jane Elliot, contended that her client briefly mounted the victim while fully clothed but then left the scene. She asked the jury to find Montano guilty of a lesser charge of sexual battery.
Cope told Peter’s jury that Peter admitted to police to touching the girl’s vaginal area during the gang rape. His jury also heard from a witness who testified that he overheard Peter bragging about penetrating the girl with her fingers and taking pictures of her during the ongoing assault. The prosecutors reminded the jury of a DNA expert’s testimony that the Peter’s DNA was also found both inside and outside of a broken, used condom at the crime scene. Brown argued that police forced a false confession out of Peter during a hostile interrogation. Outside of the courtroom today, he said he was surprised that the jury convicted Peter. Both defense attorneys expressed their disappointment in today’s verdicts.
The verdict is also devastating for the victims’ family members, some of whom were in court today, the attorneys said. Peter and Montano were the first of the perpetrators in the case to stand trial. Richmond resident Manuel Ortega, 22, and 19-year-old Ari Morales of San Pablo, are serving 32-year and 27-year prison terms after reaching plea deals with the district attorney’s office for their roles in the gang rape. Two more defendants, 46-year-old John Crane and Elvis Torrentes, 25, both of Richmond, are awaiting trial on lesser sexual assault charges. Cope said today that the investigation into the gang rape turned up DNA evidence from multiple other suspects. Additional arrests could be made in the case if matches are found
for those DNA profiles, he said.
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