Defendant describes how assault escalated

Defendant Marcelles Peter is one seven defendants charged in connection with the assault of a 16-year-old Richmond High student.

Defendant Marcelles Peter is one seven defendants charged in connection with the assault of a 16-year-old Richmond High student.

Richmond police detective Stina Johanson provided contentious testimony in a Martinez courtroom Wednesday concerning Marcelles Peter and his account of fondling the 16-year-old Richmond High student who police say was raped and beaten by multiple men on school grounds in October 2009.

Johanson was the 18th witness to testify in a preliminary hearing before Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Gregory Caskey.

The detective said she was one of the officers who went to Peter’s Pinole home on October 27, 2009 with a warrant for his arrest after people present at the assault implicated him in the crime. Peter was not at home when police arrived at 9:30 p.m., but he turned himself in to Richmond police shortly after midnight on the same night. Officers then interviewed Peter for three hours, said Johanson.

For the first two hours of the interrogation, Peter insisted he had not come into physical contact with the girl on the night of the assault, said Johanson.

In the interview’s third hour, the detective testified that she tricked Peter into believing police had incriminating DNA evidence and video surveillance footage. She said Peter admitted his involvement shortly there after saying, “I’m just going to cut to the chase. I fondled her.” He continued to deny ever penetrating the victim.

She said Peter’s eyes began to tear up and he said if the victim was someone in his family, he’d want people to step up and tell the truth and that he didn’t want to be a hypocrite.

In cross-examination by Peter’s attorney, Johanson admitted that she pressed Peter to incriminate himself. “I don’t want to see you go to prison for 20-25 years for something you may not have done,” she recalled saying. “If you just fondled her, even only a little, you have very little to worry about in the scheme of things.”

“Just touching her isn’t really a big deal,” Johanson recalled saying to Peter.

It was shortly after these statements that Peter admitted to having touched the student in a sexual manner.

Johanson testified that Peter described arriving at the dance with his friends Ari Moralles, Joe Dank—street name of Jose Montano—and another friend who was not charged in connection with the crime. After being denied entrance into the dance, the group of young men eventually moved to the basketball courts behind the school, where Peter told Johanson they thought they could drink and avoid being caught.

Police and school authorities were heavily criticized in the aftermath of the assault for not having a stronger security presence outside the school, where many young people—mostly males—lingered for hours after being turned away from the dance.

Johanson testified that Peter said a man he identified as Elvis Torrentes rode up on a bicycle and told the group of young men that “a drunk girl was having sex with a bunch of guys” back in the courtyard.

Upon arriving at the scene, Peter told Johanson, he saw a young, unconscious female being assaulted by various men and that he thought she was dead until he saw her throw up. Johanson said Peter then told her he saw a man—whom he later identified in a photograph as Manuel Ortega—kicking and punching the girl in the head.

Peter said Ortega was frustrated because the girl was not performing oral sex on him and she threw up on him, Johanson testified. “He went from zero to sixty like that” and at one point was “stomping on her head,” Johanson recalled Peter saying in the interview.

Johanson said Peter made an analogy of how the scene unraveled as a group of young men formed around the girl and began slapping, pinching, and groping her.

Peter said it was like if you saw someone with a wad of money and you needed some money, so you took $2 and everyone else took $2, and you asked for $2 more, and all of the sudden everyone converged on that person, Johanson testified.

Detective Johanson also testified about an interview with Robert Barroga—a witness to different parts of the assault—whom she said gave six different and at times inconsistent accounts of the night’s events.

District Attorney Dara Cashman has called several officers whose testimony included conflicting statements from witnesses about who did what, who said what, and who was at the scene at different times. The conflicting testimony hints at potential difficulties ahead for the DA should the case go to trial.

Throughout the hearing, defense attorneys have raised questions about how much the girl drank on her own and if anyone forced alcohol on her, as the victim told police in her early recollections after regaining consciousness.

On Monday, Dr. Jim Carpenter, a pediatrician with the Contra Costa College Regional Medical Center who specializes in child abuse, testified about his review of the medical records from the girl’s three days at John Muir Medical Center. Carpenter said the girl had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .355.

According to the Campus Alcohol Abuse Prevention Center at Virginia Tech, a BAC of .21 can result in severe motor impairment and memory blackout. With a BAC between .30 and .39, one may have impaired breathing, heart rate, and bladder functions; and the result could be unconsciousness and possible death.

At the end of the hearing, Judge Caskey will decide if there is sufficient evidence against each defendant to proceed to trial.

Set to testify next week are the final witnesses, including lead investigator Sergeant Lori Curran and a DNA expert who is expected to provide testimony that will explain why John Crane Jr., 43, has been charged in the case.

Crane is the only one of seven defendants who has not been identified by a single witness as being present at the scene on the night of the assault.

The defendants—Cody Ray Smith, 16; Ari Morales, 17; Marcelles Peter, 18; Jose Montano, 19; Manuel Ortega, 20; Elvis Torrentes, 23: and Crane—face charges ranging from assault and robbery to gang rape and rape with a foreign object.

All defendants except Torrentes face life sentences if convicted.

The preliminary hearing will continue on Monday, December 13, at 9:15 a.m. in Contra Costa Superior Court in Martinez.

2 Comments

  1. Jack

    It doesn’t matter how she got intoxicated. Taking advantage of a girl in such condition, let alone beating, kicking and “stomping on her head”, striking her with a weapon, knocking her out while and forcing themselves on her as she screamed and resisted, is still rape.

    The severe injuries she sustained while being viciously raped and assaulted alone prove she was raped. The extreme level of alcohol in her system only means that it impossible for her to be able to consent. No matter the circumstance, intoxication is not consent (nor is flirting.) This case is many orders of magnitude of severity beyond that.

    Even if the defendant just fondled her, it is sexual assault and is an admission that he at the least also played an active role in reinforcing and encouraging the actions of those who did rape and brutalize her.

    He told a friend he just passed by and didn’t get involved and that he was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” but another defendant said that he eagerly went to the crime scene and his admission confirms this as well.

    At best he is a vicious scumbag who had no trouble groping a girl who was being horrible assaulted and raped and was okay with violating her and what others were doing to her. At best.

    • Jack

      Also, her life threatening blood alcohol concentration of .355 would have been determined at least three hours after she had reportedly been drinking shortly after leaving the dance between 8 and 9 PM and was attacked.

      Cody Smith knew she had left the dance and sought her out by all accounts. He could have easily known that she came alone and left the dance early, either by a text message, someone else watching her, etc.

      That she was lured to the crime scene, and the assaults also began shortly after the police on campus left early and the presence of a school issue walkie talkie (and could have easily know by other ways as well) as well as the duration, severity and eagerness of the assaults indicate that they were aware of the police had left and that the victim was targeted and her rape was very likely premeditated, possibly before anyone took a drink or even that night.

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