It was an attack that horrified the Bay Area – the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl outside her homecoming dance at Richmond High School in which her attackers beat her unconscious and left her under a picnic table in a darkened courtyard.
On Thursday, nearly four years later, two young men were found guilty of numerous felony charges in the case, convictions that could land them in prison for the rest of their lives.
Marcelles Peter, 20, of Pinole and Jose Montano, 22, of Richmond showed no emotion when the verdicts were read in a Martinez courtroom, but their mothers wept in the gallery. Peter’s attorney, Gordon Brown, put his arm around his client’s shoulder.
The victim, referred to in court as “Jane Doe,” wasn’t in court, nor was her family. But the Richmond police detectives who worked the case for months before making arrests sat in the front row, as a sort of proxy for the girl, said police Capt. Mark Gagan.
Peter’s and Montano’s cases were joined together, but separate juries listened to the evidence during the six-week trial before Judge Barbara Zuniga of Contra Costa County Superior Court. The panel for Peter reached its verdicts Tuesday; the jury for Montano took one extra day.
Peter and Montano will be sentenced Aug. 15. They face the prospect of terms of 33 years to life in prison for the Oct. 24, 2009, attack outside Richmond High.
Prosecutors described an incident that started with the girl drinking alcohol with several young men outside the dance. It quickly turned into an attack in which numerous men raped and beat the girl before running away when police arrived, said prosecutor John Cope, who called what happened to the girl “horrendous crimes.”
Cope said Peter had touched the girl’s vaginal area and that Montano had raped her. Two other men, Ari Morales and Manuel Ortega, pleaded guilty and are serving 27-year and 32-year prison terms, respectively.
“This is obviously an important and appropriate outcome,” Cope said outside court. “This is clearly justice. The jury has spoken.”
Relatives of both men declined to comment.
A juror in Montano’s case, a 59-year-old man who didn’t want to be identified, said he “really didn’t want to believe that (Montano) was guilty” but that the evidence proved otherwise. He said jurors had struggled with sometimes-conflicting testimony from participants who had been high on drugs or drunk during the attack.
Defense attorneys did not deny that their clients had been at the scene and had played some part in the attack. But they said police had forced Peter into a false confession and that Montano hadn’t been seen raping the girl.
They said the prosecution’s account of what happened was clouded by incomplete evidence and witnesses who had reason to lie.
Jane Elliot, Montano’s attorney, said afterward, “This is a devastating verdict for the Montano family, although at the same time I’m not diminishing the issues with regard to Jane Doe and what Jane Doe has gone through.”
She added, “I’m disappointed. I’m not shocked.”
Both Peter and Montano were convicted of forcible rape acting in concert, a forcible act of sexual penetration while acting in concert, and forcible oral copulation in concert.
Witnesses in the case included the victim as well as Ortega, Morales and several other young men who were in the courtyard while the girl was set upon. Many of the men downplayed their roles, offering recollections of only a few moments of an attack that may have lasted more than two hours.
The victim testified that she remembered nothing of the attack. By the end of her ordeal, during which some of the men poured brandy on her, she had amassed a 0.35 percent blood alcohol level – more than four times the legal driving limit in California.
Rescuers found her folded over a beam under a picnic table, with her purple dress pushed up around her body and a pool of vomit near her mouth. She testified that she woke up in a hospital surrounded by medical staff with a neck brace and a catheter. Her jewelry, high heels, pantyhose, panties and handbag were missing.
“My head hurt, and I saw five of everybody staring at me,” she told jurors. The woman, 5 feet tall and weighing no more than 100 pounds, said her body hurt “from head to toe,” with “excruciating pain every time I moved.” Graphic pictures of her swollen face and bruised body were shown to jurors.
Her father testified that she was in such bad shape after the attack that “her face was distorted, no longer round” and that his daughter “seemed to me on death row.”
Cope said the attack began after the girl, who felt bored and hot inside the school gymnasium, left the dance after 8:30 p.m. She planned to call her father for a ride, the prosecutor said, but then heard a male classmate call out from the courtyard, “Hey, you want to come party with us?”
The girl agreed, Cope said. The attack began minutes later.
At one point, Cope said, the boy who initially drew the girl into the courtyard used her cell phone to call her father, taunting him that his daughter had performed well sexually.
As many as 20 young men may have participated in the attack or watched, Cope said, but none called police.
Two other men, John Crane and Elvis Torrentes, still await trial in connection with the attack.
The victim received $4 million from the West Contra Costa County Unified School District through a civil claim in the case.