MARTINEZ (CBS SF) – Two young men will spend three decades to life in prison for their roles in the brutal 2009 beating and gang rape of a 16-year-old girl outside of a homecoming dance at Richmond High School.
Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga sentenced Jose Montano, 22, of Richmond to 33 years to life and Marcelles Peter, 20, of Pinole, to 29 years to life in a Martinez courtroom Thursday afternoon.
Both were convicted last month on charges of rape in concert, sexual penetration in concert, and oral copulation in concert causing great bodily injury.
Prosecutors said both men played major roles in the gang rape of the victim, referred to as Jane Doe in court.
The night of Oct. 24, 2009, the girl was beaten, sexually assaulted, dragged over 200 feet of pavement and robbed over a more than two-hour period in a dark courtyard on the Richmond High campus as some 20 men and boys stood by, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney John Cope.
“The only kindness shown to her that night was that she was beaten so badly she can’t remember what happened to her,” Zuniga said before handing down the sentence.
“It is beyond shocking that a human being could dehumanize someone to the extent that Jane Doe was that night,” she said.
“You dehumanized her…she became a toy for you to torture and play with,” the judge told the defendants, neither of whom showed emotion throughout Thursday’s hearing.
During a rare dual trial in which both defendants were assigned a separate jury, prosecutors presented evidence that Montano had sex with the girl as she lay unconscious, and Peter admitted to touching the girl’s vaginal area. DNA from both men was found at the scene.
Sitting next to his attorney in court, Montano offered an apology.
“No words can undo what’s been done,” he said. “All I can do is
apologize for any of my actions and wish to move forward from the situation.”
The night of the gang rape, the victim suffered bone fractures, hypothermia, head wounds and burns, among other injuries, and was admitted to a hospital with a near-fatal 0.35 blood alcohol level, according to police and prosecutors.
It was only when another student walking by the area learned of what was going on and called 911 that the attacks stopped.
Police found the victim half-naked and draped over the wooden beam of a picnic table.
In court Thursday, a victim’s advocate read the girl’s words.
In her statement, the victim said that at 20 years old, she is still struggling to earn her high school diploma and suffers from nightmares, panic attacks, anxiety, body aches and migraines, among other effects of the attack she survived nearly four years ago.
“All my friends got to walk across the stage and I didn’t get to with them. I was left behind,” she said, telling the court that the defendants caused her to miss her final two years of high school along with the many rites of passage that go with them.
“You both took a lot from me. More than you will ever know. But I just want to say to the both of you, I forgive both of you,” Doe said. “But no matter how hard I try and wish I could, I’ll never forget, and there are parts of me that will never be healed.”
The court also heard prepared statements from Doe’s parents, who said the gang rape has forever changed their family.
Members of both defendants’ families present in court Thursday could be seen wiping away tears.
The judge said she has received numerous letters from relatives pleading for leniency for the two young men.
Peter’s attorney, Gordon Brown, maintained his client’s innocence Thursday and said he plans to appeal the ruling.
But Zuniga reminded Brown that she found Peter’s pre-trial statements to be inconsistent and not credible.
She also cited the callousness of Peter’s actions, including a recording of him and another co-defendant in a police patrol car laughing as they were driven to Juvenile Hall after the attack.
Montano’s attorney, Jane Elliot, who requested a 15-year-to-life sentence for her client, said Montano has shown sincere remorse for his actions and is ready to turn his life around.
“I think he has shown tremendous growth in the years I’ve come to know him,” she said.
The judge said she has appreciated both defendants’ courteousness throughout the trial proceedings but could not ignore their heinous crimes.
“If I could, I would give Mr. Montano more years, because what he did was despicable,” she added.
Two co-defendants in the case, 19-year-old Ari Morales of San Pablo and Manuel Ortega, 22, of Richmond, are serving 27-year and 32-year sentences for their participation in the gang rape in exchange for plea deals with the district attorney’s office.
Richmond residents John Crane, 46, and Elvis Torrentes, 25, are both awaiting trial on lesser sexual assault charges for their roles in the rape.
Cope said outside of the courtroom Thursday that he is pleased with the verdicts, and hopes the news will bring a sense of closure for the victim and a message “that her life has value and what was done to her was wrong.”
He added that his office would continue to work to match unidentified DNA profiles found at the scene of the gang rape to outstanding suspects.
“Some of the people out there who think they’ve gotten away with it—we’re still working on this case,” he said.
Zuniga said Thursday that up to 12 people are believed to have sexually assaulted Jane Doe on the night of the rape.
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