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Marcelles Peter (Richmond Police Department)

MARTINEZ -- Two men could spend the rest of their lives in prison after jurors on Thursday convicted them of participating in the infamous gang rape of a 16-year-old girl on the Richmond High School campus in 2009, an attack that horrified the community and drew nationwide outrage.

"This is clearly justice," senior deputy district attorney John Cope said after the verdicts. "I think our society in Contra Costa County has changed from this (crime)."

Marcelles Peter, 20, and Jose Montano, 22, were motionless as a court clerk read their identical verdicts from separate juries that call for punishments of up to 33 years to life at a sentencing hearing Aug. 15. Their families, who had been warned by the judge not to audibly react, softly cried.

The families declined to comment on the verdicts; many of them shielded their faces from TV cameras as they exited the courtroom.

"I think they're going through a major devastation," said Montano's attorney, Jane Elliott.

Peter and Montano, who have been jailed since their arrests nearly four years ago, are the third and fourth men convicted in connection with the Oct. 24, 2009, attack in which the sophomore was beaten, raped and otherwise sexually abused for more than two hours in a dark campus courtyard while spectators watched.

The victim fell in and out on consciousness during the attack because of head trauma and a near-fatal blood-alcohol level. She was brought to a trauma center in a coma and could have died had she not received medical attention when she did, according to a doctor who testified during the trial.


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Peter, of Pinole, and Montano, of Richmond, were found guilty of rape in concert, sexual penetration in concert, oral copulation in concert and a single charge enhancement for great bodily injury caused to the victim. While they each face up to 33 years to life, Judge Barbara Zuniga will have some discretion as to whether the terms for each count are consecutive or concurrent.

For more than six weeks, the juries heard from about 30 witnesses, including two men who were convicted of the gang rape by way of plea deals. Manuel Ortega, 22, of Richmond, is serving a 32-year sentence, and Peter's former neighbor, 20-year-old Ari Morales, is serving 27 years.

Most of the civilian witnesses were teenage boys who all expressed fear, discomfort or both about testifying. One of the witnesses told the jury he would rather be arrested than testify, and he was. He spent a weekend in jail after skipping out on his second day of testimony and returned to the witness stand in a yellow jail jumpsuit.

Only one of the 24 jurors spoke to the media after the verdicts were read.

"The ages really made it difficult for everybody," said the juror from Montano's panel, a 59-year-old West Contra Costa County man. "They're kids."

The juror said he and another juror entered the trial "really not wanting to believe" that Montano was guilty.

"What I was believing started getting a lot of holes punched through it," he said.

"It was a very difficult case," the juror said, noting that many of the witnesses that night were under the influence of drugs and alcohol. "Everybody was kind of messed up.

"Some (jurors) felt like they were being pushed (toward conviction). There were a lot of emotions in there" during deliberations.

Defendant Jose Montano looks toward the gallery at the Wakefield-Taylor courthouse in Martinez, Calif., on Thursday, July 18, 2013. Two separate verdicts
Defendant Jose Montano looks toward the gallery at the Wakefield-Taylor courthouse in Martinez, Calif., on Thursday, July 18, 2013. Two separate verdicts were read in the Richmond High gang rape trials Marcelles Peter and Jose Montano with Judge Barbara Zuniga presiding. Juries in both cases brought back guilty verdicts. ((Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group))

Dual jury trials are rare, used when evidence is admissible for one defendant but not the other. Montano's jury heard the same testimony that Peter's did except for Peter's police interrogation tape on which he said that Montano raped the girl.

The juries deliberated separately, with Peter's jury returning a verdict on Tuesday after seven hours of deliberations and Montano's jury returning Wednesday after 11 hours.

Peter was 17 and Montano 18 when, according to testimony, they arrived at the courtyard together while the girl was already unconscious and being assaulted. Like many of the young men there that night, they had been denied entry to the dance on the other side of campus and were drunk.

Peter demonstrated for police on video how he touched the girl's vagina while others were groping her. He said he didn't foresee her getting raped and beaten afterward.

A witness testified that Peter told him he took cellphone pictures of part of the attack. DNA belonging to Peter was found on a condom.

His attorney, Gordon Brown, argued that the DNA was not from Peter's sperm, and it is unclear how it got there. He said police interrogation tactics led to Peter falsely confessing to touching the girl.

Brown said his client remained composed after the verdict.

"So far, he's kept his chin up," said Brown, noting he braced Peter for the worst. "He's been a strong young man throughout these very difficult proceedings.

Brown described his client as a "curious bystander" during the attack.

"(Peter) had no contact" with the victim, he said.

Brown said he will file an appeal.

Numerous witnesses described Montano raping the girl, and his DNA was on a condom wrapper.

Elliot, his attorney, argued that he was on top of her for a few seconds but did not penetrate her or even expose himself. She asked the jury for a sexual battery conviction.

Among the spectators in the packed courtroom were Richmond police Officer Todd Kaiser and crime scene investigator Joanna Grivetti, who were among the first people who arrived at the courtyard to find the girl partially nude and near death.

"It still haunts me," Grivetti said.

"I've been to no less than 30-35 homicides in my 5½ years on the force, and this was the worst thing I've seen in the city of Richmond," Kaiser said.

The victim, who received a $4 million settlement from the West Contra Costa Unified School District in 2011, testified that she remembered nothing between having a polite conversation with a group of males in the courtyard and waking up the next day.

Still awaiting trial are Richmond residents Elvis Torrentes, 25, and John Crane, 46. Torrentes is charged with sexual penetration of an intoxicated person. Crane, whose semen was found on the victim and various objects left at the scene, according to testimony, is charged with rape.

Investigators recovered and stored up to four DNA profiles from the crime scene that have never been matched to someone, Cope said.

"We do have some DNA profiles we don't have matches for," Cope said, "and some day they may match up."

Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.