Six Gang Rape Suspects Enter 'Not Guilty' Pleas

All six charged in October's gang rape appear in court to enter pleas.

November 11, 2009, 11:56 AM

Dec. 1, 2009 — -- The six suspects in the brutal gang rape of a 15-year-old Richmond, Calif., high school girl all pleaded not guilty today.

The defendants face a litany of charges, including rape in concert, and sexual battery stemming from the Oct. 24 incident, which was witnessed by 20 or more people who did not call police or attempt to intervene.

The juveniles -- 15-year-old Cody Ray Smith, 16-year-old Ari Morales and 17-year-old Marcelles Peter -- are being charged as adults. The other defendants are Jose Montano, Manuel Ortega and Elvis Torrentes. If convicted, all could be sentenced to life in prison.

Appearing this morning in orange jumpsuits, the six defendants were enclosed behind a bulletproof glass barrier, according to ABC's San Francisco affiliate KGO-TV.

While the defendants themselves showed little emotion during the brief hearing, friends of the accused told reporters that the boys must have been drawn to the victim the night of the incident.

"As far as with the girl, I'm not saying she is a bad person, but I feel that there had to be something that attracted them if they did it -- I don't know," a friend of a defendant, Shyan Mason, told KGO.

One of the witnesses of the gang rape said last month that he could have stopped the attack that he watched for 20 minutes and he didn't feel accountable for what happened.

"I feel like I could have done something, but I don't feel like I have any responsibility for anything that happened," the unidentified 16-year-old witness told KGO.

Two witnesses told the television station they didn't call police during the more than two-hour-long assault on the girl because they didn't want to be called a snitch.

Witnesses have said that the victim was repeatedly kicked in the head as a group of boys took turns raping her during the attack, even using a foreign object to penetrate her.

One witness said he didn't have a cell phone to call for help and was scared to tell anyone what was happening. Even his parents didn't know he saw the rape occur, he said.

"She was pretty quiet. I thought she was, like, dead for a minute, but then I saw her moving around and I was like, 'Oh,'" the witness told KGO. "I really wanted to help her, but I don't know, I just didn't."

Police said that a total of 10 males were suspected of taking part in the gang rape. Twenty others, according to authorities, stood by and watched, some even snapping photographs on their cell phones, while the teen girl was assaulted.

Salvador Rodriguez, who was initially arrested in connection to the crime but was later released after the district attorney said she did not have sufficient evidence to hold him, said he saw some "crazy things" the night of the attack.

Rape Witnesses Feared Being Called a Snitch

"They were kicking her in her head and they were beating her up, robbing her and ripping her clothes off. It's something you can't get out your mind," Rodriguez told KGO.

Rodriguez said he was skateboarding near the high school when he saw a group form at a dimly lit section of campus, an area friends of the victim told is known for its seclusion. But when Rodriguez approached the group, what he found was gruesome.

"I saw people, like, dehumanizing her," said Rodriguez.

"I just see, like, everybody going crazy and messing with her, and I was like, 'Hey man, calm down, leave her alone, that's a little girl.' You don't do nothing like that, because I got two 15-year-old sisters myself," Rodriquez said.

He said he knew at least one of the attackers and tried to stop the group from taking pictures of the victim on their cell phones.

Rodriguez told KGO he was the only person who tried to help the victim, who was lying naked alone by the time the attack ended.

"She was by herself, she was naked and I tried to help her and I reached for her and she started screaming and I said, 'Hey, I don't want to hurt you, I just want to help, that's all I want to do is just help you,'" Rodriguez said. "So she stopped screaming. It's as if she knew, you know, I wasn't trying to do nothing and then I grabbed my T-shirt and covered her up with it."

Fearful of being labeled a snitch -- a reputation that Rodriguez said could put his life in danger -- the teen said he was too scared to call for help.

"People say, 'Why didn't I call the cops,' but at the same time, I live in Richmond. A neighborhood like this, snitching is something you don't do, you know. I mean I have to walk down the streets now in fear of my life," Rodriquez said.

Someone who heard people talking about the attack eventually called the cops.

"We didn't want to go back there because we were scared," Margarita Vargas told the police dispatcher. "Nobody wants to call the cops, so we decided to call the cops."

The victim is described by friends as a devout Christian who attended church three times a week; her friends said she had been looking forward to the homecoming dance for weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.