Defense focuses on inconsistencies in Morales interview

County sheriff's deputies escort defendants to the courthouse in the morning. Defendants shown (left to right) include Marcelles Peter, 18, Jose Montano, 19, Elvis Torrentes, 23, and John Crane Jr., 43.

County sheriff's deputies escort defendants to the courthouse in the morning. Defendants shown (left to right) include Marcelles Peter, 18, Jose Montano, 19, Elvis Torrentes, 23, and John Crane Jr., 43.

Defense attorneys honed in on contradictions in an interview with defendant Ari Morales, 17, Tuesday in connection to a gang rape of a 16-year-old Richmond High student.

During his second day of testimony at the preliminary hearing, Kenneth Greco, a former detective with the Richmond Police Department, said that he and Detective Lori Curran conducted a 2.5-hour-long interview with Morales three days after the October 2009 assault at Richmond High School.

Each defense attorney challenged the validity of portions of the interview.

Defense attorney Cecily Gray—lawyer to Elvis Torrentes, 23—played Greco a four-minute segment of a video of the Morales interview on her laptop. Most of the defendants leaned forward and strained to see the video.

During the segment, Morales talked about how defendant Manuel Ortega, 20, was beating the student and demonstrated how Ortega hit her, slapping sounds audible in the courtroom.

Morales also said in the video segment that Salvador Rodriguez, 22, of Richmond—originally arrested, then released without charges—was “trying to protect her, for some reason.”

As Greco and counsel watched the video, Morales was smiling, shaking his head, and kept looking back at Ortega, who was also smiling and laughing.

Gray pointed out the interview lacked pertinent follow-up questions.

The only time Morales mentioned Torrentes in the video, Gray said, was when Detective Curran brought up his name. Gray said that from the video interview, Torrentes’ actions at the scene were unclear, and that Morales may have been talking about Ortega’s actions instead of Torrentes’ at one point.

Attorney Gray and defense attorney Mary Carey—lawyer to Jose Montano, 19—challenged Curran’s interrogation techniques.

Gray read from the transcript of the videotaped interview, citing instances when she said Curran manipulated Morales, calling him a “good young man,” and telling him, “I don’t want to have to tell your mom that you’re pretending not to remember things.”

Attorney Carey said that Detective Curran repeatedly asked Morales who “Joe” was—the person Ortega said raped the girl—and that the transcript reflected that Morales said he didn’t know who “Joe” was at least 25 times.

“If you want me to say something, I’ll say it,” said Morales, Carey read from the transcript.

Seven suspects—Cody Ray Smith, 16, Elvis Torrentes, 23, Ari Morales, 17, Marcelles Peter, 18, Jose Montano, 19, Manuel Ortega, 20, and John Crane Jr., 43— have all been charged in connection with the rape and beating of the student.

All except Torrentes face life sentences if convicted.

The preliminary hearing, which determines if there is enough evidence against the defendants to require a trial, will continue Monday, November 29, 2010 at 9:30 a.m. in Contra Costa County Superior Court in Martinez.

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