Richmond police detective Eric Smith testified Tuesday that Jose Montano was identified in a photo lineup as one of the men who raped a 16-year-old Richmond High School student last October. Smith also testified that he believes an eighth person should be prosecuted in the assault.
Smith was the sole witness Tuesday on the ninth day of a preliminary hearing during which Richmond police have presented graphic physical evidence from the girl’s body and testified that suspects used crude, unpublishable language during their arrests or interviews to describe what they did to the girl.
Jose Montano, 19, is the first of the seven suspects to be specifically identified during testimony as someone seen raping the student.
Smith testified that defendant Manuel Ortega told detectives during a police interview that he saw a man raping the girl. Ortega then identified Jose Montano as that man from a photo lineup, Smith said.
Smith also testified about his interview with 22-year-old Richmond resident Salvador Rodriguez. Rodriguez was identified in previous police testimony as the only person at the scene who tried to protect the victim, according to interviews with Ortega and defendant Ari Morales. Rodriguez was arrested and released without charges.
Rodriguez’s description of the beginning of the night was similar to other suspects’ accounts, Smith said, in which the student joined Cody Smith and a group of men and boys who were drinking near a picnic table in a Richmond High courtyard.
But Smith testified that during his 6-hours interviewing Rodriguez over two days, Rodriguez was evasive and slow to identify people involved, and changed his story over time, telling different versions of the same event. Smith testified that he believes Rodriguez lied about his and other people’s involvement.
Smith said he got conflicting stories from the suspects about who pulled off the student’s pantyhose and underwear; Rodriguez told him Ortega did it, but Ortega told Smith that he and Rodriguez did it together.
Rodriguez told Smith the males were ripping off the student’s clothes and people were taking photos with their cell phones. Rodriguez said he tried to protect the girl, by knocking the phones out of their hands and telling people to leave. The detail that some people took photos during the rape was widely reported at the time. But so far, aside from Rodriguez’ comments to police, there’s been no evidence presented in the preliminary hearing that police found mobile phones containing images of the rape, or that substantiates the story of picture-taking.
Rodriguez told Smith he left the scene and went to the store to buy a soda because he didn’t want to be part of a rape. Rodriguez said in his police interview that he was gone for fifteen minutes and that when he got back, the student was lying on the concrete, unresponsive and moaning.
“You didn’t believe that for a second, did you?” asked defense Attorney Mary Carey—representing Jose Montano.
“No,” Smith answered.
Carey then asked Smith whether Rodriguez should be prosecuted in this case and Smith said yes.
Rodriguez told Smith that after he got back, he tried to lift the girl up, and said “RJ,” whom he identified as Robert Barroga, helped him lift her. Rodriguez said he put one of his shirts on the bench underneath her and wrapped another shirt around her.
Richmond police showed up soon after Rodriguez put her down, he told Smith, and he grabbed both of his shirts and ran, along with Ortega, RJ, and two Asian males. This account conflicts with previous testimony from the police officer who found the girl. She was not found on a bench, but was folded over a crossbar that ran under the picnic table, according to Officer Todd Kaiser.
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— face charges ranging from assault and robbery to gang rape and rape with a foreign object.
All except Torrentes face life sentences if convicted.
The preliminary hearing, which determines if there is enough evidence against the defendants to justify a trial, will continue Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 9 a.m. in Contra Costa County Superior Court in Martinez.