RICHMOND, Calif. — Six people charged with gang raping a 16-year-old girl outside Richmond High School's homecoming dance Oct. 24 pleaded not guilty in a packed courtroom Tuesday.
The suspects, including three juveniles charged as adults, remain jailed on high or no bail and are scheduled to return to court Jan. 21 to set a preliminary hearing date.
Participating in the two-hour sexual assault in a dark courtyard on campus, authorities say, were Cody Ray Smith, 15, of San Pablo; Ari Morales, 16, of San Pablo; Marcelles Peter, 17, of Pinole; Jose Carlos Montano, 18, of Richmond; Manuel Ortega, 19, of Richmond; and Elvis Josue Torrentes, 21, of Richmond.
Several other people witnessed the rape but made no effort to call police or help the victim, police say. A young Richmond woman, at home a few blocks away from campus, finally reported the attack when her boyfriend relayed what he had heard from passers-by.
All the defendants except Torrentes face charges that call for life in prison because of a special allegation that they physically participated in the rape. Torrentes' charges call for up to 26 years in prison.
Richmond police have said they believe all the main participants are in custody; friends and family members of several of the suspects have told Bay Area News Group that their loved one has been wrongly accused.
"I just don't think all of them did that," said Shyan Mason, a 23-year-old Hercules resident and 2005 Richmond High School graduate who was among Tuesday's court spectators. She said she doesn't know any of the defendants personally. "I can't believe that happened at Richmond High School — it's a good school."
The defendants waived their right to have a preliminary hearing within 10 or 60 days. Senior deputy district attorney Dara Cashman said it likely will be several months before a preliminary hearing, given the large amount of evidence that police are offering in the case.
Last month, Cashman gave each defense attorney 685 pages of documents and 28 DVDs containing evidence. She said the complicated nature of the case makes the possibility of bringing it to a grand jury unlikely.
Cashman said whether the victim in the case would testify at the preliminary hearing is a "decision that would happen down the line."
The prosecution has the option to use hearsay testimony in place of the victim's at a preliminary hearing under California's Proposition 115, also known as the Crime Victims Justice Reform Act, passed by state voters in 1990.
Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.