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Manuel Ortega

Ortega sentenced for 32 years in Richmond High rape case

on October 19, 2012

The first of six defendants in the Richmond High gang rape of 2009 was sentenced in Contra Costa County Superior Court in Martinez today to 32 years in prison.

The sentencing was a formality after Manuel Ortega, 22, plead guilty last month to counts of rape, rape by a foreign object, forced oral copulation resulting in great bodily injury and robbery.

The Contra Costa County District Attorney was about to start jury selection earlier this year when Ortega approached Senior Deputy District Attorney John Cope to request a plea bargain. If Ortega had gone to trial and been convicted, he could have faced a life sentence.

Cope said today that after weighing the need for justice with the victim’s desire to avoid having to testify, they decided to accept the plea bargain.

“We believe this sentence is a balance between punishing the defendant and putting the victim through a trial,” said Cope, as he addressed the court on the victim’s behalf.

The Oct. 24, 2009 gang rape occurred at Richmond High School during a school dance. According to a probation report prepared on Ortega as part of his sentencing, when Richmond police arrived at the scene, they saw a group of men standing around a picnic table. The men scattered immediately.

When police found Ortega, who was 19 at the time, he was violent and screaming obscenities, the probation report stated. Ortega ran from the arresting officer. He punched the officer and tried to kick and bite him. According to the probation report, Ortega told the officer, “Just shoot me in the head. I don’t care … I’ve been alive for 19 years and nobody don’t care about me.”

Richmond police found the victim unresponsive and slumped over a bar underneath a picnic table on school grounds, according to the probation report.

According to the probation report, glitter flecks were found in Ortega’s hair, chest and lower abdomen — similar reddish pink glitter flecks were also found on the ground at the scene of the crime.

“I think you can gather from the charges that he was not just a follower,” Cope said.

Ortega entered the courtroom today in shackles with his head down. His small frame didn’t quite fill out the slightly crumpled khaki slacks and gray suit jacket he wore. As he sat at the defendant’s table, Public Defender Betty Barker called up three witnesses to speak on his behalf: Donald Jefferson, who knew Ortega from his time in the juvenile ward, Cynthia Avalos, a close friend and Maria Ortega, his mother.

“He’s a good person,” said Jefferson as he stood leaning on the podium and addressing Judge Barbara Zuniga, “and I know he has a good heart.” Before sitting back down, an emotional Jefferson told “Manny” that he would be sending him care packages.

Cynthia Avalos spoke next. She described the “Manny” she knows as kind and considerate, someone who was always willing to lend a hand. “If he could go back in time,” said Avalos, “he’d have never done something like this.”

With the help of an interpreter, Maria Ortega also briefly addressed the court. “My family is so sorry about what happened to this young lady,” she said.

“Manny is so sorry about what happened,” she continued, “and he regrets it.”

Ortega sees his mother as much as possible. But he hasn’t spoken to his father in months, according the probation report.

“When speaking about his father, the defendant became emotional and appeared to be fighting back tears,” the probation report states.

Ortega is the oldest of three brothers and one sister, who is five years old. Ortega dropped out of high school when he was 16. He went to the job corps and studied culinary arts, but after two months he was kicked out for setting things on fire, the probation report states.

After the sentencing, Barker told reporters that while there is no excuse for what happened on that night, “underage drinking played a major part in the incident.”

According to the probation report, Ortega took his first sip of alcohol when he was 14. He drank alcohol “almost everyday” and smoked marijuana regularly. He was also addicted to prescription drugs, the report stated.

Before he was arrested for the Richmond gang rape, Ortega was declared a ward of the juvenile court in March 2008 for misdemeanor allegations of tampering with a vehicle. According to the probation report, a psychological assessment was ordered while Ortega was in juvenile hall, after he reportedly attempted suicide.

Dr. John Podboy, a clinical and forensic psychologist who met with Ortega several times, reported that “It is extremely difficult to interact with the defendant. He is consumed by psychotic thoughts about his life and people. He spoke of his desires to end his life when the opportunity presents itself … He does not have the ability to focus for more than a few moments. He insists on discussing conspiratorial topics and his need for drugs.”

Barker, Ortega’s attorney, estimates that Ortega will be in his late 40s or early 50s (the law requires he serve at least 85% of his sentence and he is credited with the time spent in custody so far) when he is released. The court ordered that Ortega become a registered sex offender for the rest of his life. Barker read a statement of apology and acknowledgement from Ortega during the sentencing.

“He wants you to know how sorry he is,” said Barker, “if he could turn the clock back he would. The least he could do is plead guilty and spare the victim anymore pain.”


  1. Richmond Pulse on October 19, 2012 at 3:45 pm


    • joe usa on October 19, 2012 at 7:31 pm

      DEF SCUM

  2. Tami on October 20, 2012 at 12:21 am

    I do not think justice was served. As a woman and a mother, I understand the need for accountability, but murderers get lighter sentences than this. He was obviously troubled, under the influence, and very young at the time of the crime. I believe this sentence is double what it should have been, and I hope the laws are reformed to this kind of sentence is reduced. As a taxpayer, I do not think this is how I want my tax dollars spent. It is obvious he regret what he did, and society would be better served if he is rehabilitated and returned into society as a productive citizen. My heart goes out to the victim, and I am certain she will be able to have a happy and fulfilling life with the right support, but again, he was very young, under the influence, and obviously in a lot of pain when he did this. I wish him well, and hope he is getting the help he needs. I do not think the public defenders in San Francisco would have accepted this kind of a deal. Again, MURDERERS get less time, it makes no sense.

    • Joanne on October 20, 2012 at 5:30 am

      Tami – are you out of your mind???

      This man BEAT and RAPED a woman. She COULD HAVE DIED.

      He had a disastrous start in life, but babying him and leaving psychotic person on the outside to do it again doesn’t UNDO what he did.

      We can’t make him accountable, but if he can accept that this is a way to begin to repent for his actions, then more power to him !

      He came forward to request the sentence, no one did it to him. Grow up ! Accountability begins from within, and this is a reasonable sentance for any rational person who wants to be free from a psychotic roaming our streets, doing drugs and alcohol, and ready to do it again.

      I say that this is good news, and a great start to atonement.

    • jill on October 20, 2012 at 9:58 am

      Tami- you are sadly mis/uninformed about this situation. The young lady was waiting for her father to pick her up when this boy and a number of other young men forcibly beat and raped her on school grounds! The young woman was found UNRESPONSIVE over the bar of a picnic table. YOU ARE CONFIDENT that she will recover?!!!!!!!!! Are you qualified to say that? I AM slightly more qualified than you, as I am in he community and have students who are friends with her. The girl is a shell of herself. She is traumatized – that is why the boy plead guilty- because he has TRAUMATIZED her. I agree the boy needs support and counseling, but don’t feel sorry for someone who made, repetitively, bad choices that lead to this crime.

    • DagoRed on October 20, 2012 at 12:45 pm

      Murderers who get lighter sentences have extenuating circumstances — a crime of passion, one caused by accident or through neglect, etc. — which show their crime, while serious and worthy of prison time, are not indications that such criminals are menaces to society.
      Ortega, on the other hand, is exactly that — a menace to society. His victim randomly chosen and his acts against her particularly greusome, proved he has a violence problem against women, if not against all people, when he drinks and loses this control. This is precisely the kind of people we need to incarcerate for long periods of time, until they grow up and demonstrate that they no longer possess such out of control tendencies. Prisons are full of people — who are kind, generous, smart, even charming most of the time — but who all regret the crimes they commited at momentary lapses in judgement. People must demonstrate more than just regret for crime. Foremost, they must demonstrate control — an ability to behave like civilized humans, rather than a crazed beasts, not just most of the time, but all the time, and in all situations (i.e. when drunk). Therapy may make him conscious of his inner demons, but only he can demonstrate whether he has mastered control over them, and given his past failures to do so, people have little reason that he will magically develop this ability in the past couple of years. People do not change that quickly. Perhaps when he gets a few years older, he will have developed some self-restraint and control over his vile inner feelings — and that is why we have parol hearings and psych evals — but until he demonstrates such power over himself, he no more deserves freedom to roam free in society than the most violent animals we keep caged up in our zoos.

    • susana on October 21, 2012 at 11:57 am

      com mother and as a woman say that care and protect their sons and daughters so that they do not go for this. where is she was at risk to join to drink with them, and I think that everyone involved in rape as a society which recorded the situation must be judged also as well as don’t you think just the penalty which gave him, is not just that the pay everything. the other should also have to pay

  3. dee on October 20, 2012 at 7:20 am

    Very well reported and written. A quality story about a complex and wrenching case.
    One quibble – you don’t need to capitalize Richmond Gang Rape. This isn’t an official name or title.

    • Julie Brown on October 22, 2012 at 8:03 pm

      Hi Dee,

      I appreciate you bringing this to our attention. We’ve corrected Richmond High gang rape to be written without caps.

      Thanks for reading.
      Julie Brown

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