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Police testimony brings new details

on December 2, 2010

The preliminary hearing involving the sexual assault and beating of a 16-year-old Richmond High student continued into its tenth day.

Two Richmond police officers described lengthy interviews with witnesses and suspects—many of whom introduced new accounts of events or names of people they said were involved in specific parts of the assault.

Detective Jerree Tong and Officer Michael Rood with the Richmond Police Department listed details from interviews about who helped Salvador Rodriguez, 22, of Richmond, carry the victim from where she had been lying—unresponsive—on the concrete by the dumpster, back to the picnic benches; who took her shoes off; and who came to the scene on a skateboard or left on one.

Detective Rood testified that he conducted a nearly two-hour interview with a male who said he was at the scene and whom Rood described as “extremely difficult” and “untruthful.”

Rood said the witness told him there were a lot of other people at the scene cheering on males who were slapping and otherwise assaulting the student. The witness told Rood he saw a “drunk guy” attempt to penetrate the victim with a skateboard.

Defense attorney Jack Funk—representing Manuel Ortega—challenged the skateboard statement.

“Can you imagine how that would be possible?” asked Funk.

Rood said he believed the witness’s account and said it was clear what the witness was describing.

“You didn’t ask how it was physically possible?” Funk inquired again.

“No, I did not,” answered Rood.

Detective Tong testified that police do have skateboards in evidence, although he didn’t say whether they were connected to the scene of the assault. Tong said that during his interview with witness Robert Barroga, Barroga said defendant Elvis Torrentes poured alcohol on the victim. Based on that statement, police obtained a search warrant for Torrentes’ residence. During the search, police seized two skateboards.

Defense attorney Mary Carey represents defendant Jose Montano, who was identified Tuesday as a participant in the rape. Carey tried Wednesday to establish that her client may have been misidentified, by bringing up names of witnesses who fit Montano’s physical description.

But Judge Gregory M. Caskey blocked that line of questioning, saying it’s irrelevant at this point to bring up names of people who look like Montano.

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 Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010 at 9 a.m. in Contra Costa County Superior Court in Martinez.

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