MARTINEZ -- A 22-year-old Richmond man described as an instigator in the infamous 2009 Richmond High School gang rape pleaded guilty Thursday in exchange for a 32-year prison sentence.
Manuel Ortega was the first of six defendants charged in the Oct. 24, 2009 assault to go to trial and was nearing jury selection when he accepted a plea offer in the case that shocked the community and generated national headlines.
Police testified at a 2010 preliminary hearing that witnesses described Ortega ripping off the girl's clothes, punching and kicking her in the head, sexually assaulted her and egged on others to do the same. His sperm DNA was recovered from the victim's body and a brandy bottle found at the scene.
The most heavily charged defendant, Ortega was facing life in prison before accepting a plea deal. He will be sentenced Oct. 19. His attorney could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The girl was leaving a homecoming dance at Richmond High School when she began hanging out with a group of boys and men in a dark courtyard and became heavily intoxicated. She was beaten, robbed, raped and otherwise sexually assaulted over two hours while spectators watched, according to preliminary hearing testimony.
The community was particularly disturbed that reportedly no one called police or tried to intervene. Police were finally called to the scene by a young woman in the neighborhood who heard third- or fourth-hand what was happening.
The officers arrived just before midnight to find the partially nude and unconscious girl under a picnic table. She had a near-fatal blood-alcohol level of .355, a concussion, hypothermia, brain and facial swelling, and head-to-toe scrapes and bruises, according to preliminary hearing testimony.
Ortega was apprehended near the school after being seen running from the approaching patrol cars. The arresting officer testified that a drunk and belligerent Ortega tried to bite him, and said the girl wanted him to have sex with him, though in a more crudely phrased term.
Ortega pleaded guilty Thursday to four felonies: rape in concert, rape by a foreign object in concert, forced oral copulation in concert resulting in great bodily injury, and robbery, according to deputy district attorney John Cope, who is prosecuting all six defendants.
Cope said he would not comment on the plea disposition but he noted that the DA's Office took into consideration the victim's interests. She has so far not had to take a witness stand and publicly testify about that night.
She and her family moved out of Richmond after the rape. The West Contra Costa Unified School District agreed in 2011 to pay her a $4 million civil settlement.
Judge Barbara Zuniga last month denied a motion by defense attorneys to move any trials in the case to another county because of the high publicity about the event in Contra Costa County. Cope said it was denied without prejudice, so the defense could renew its change-of-venue motions at any time.
The remaining five defendants are Ari Morales, 18, of San Pablo; Marcelles Peter, 20, of Pinole; and Richmond residents Elvis Torrentes, 24, Jose Montano, 21, and John Crane, 45. A judge dismissed charges against a seventh defendant, a classmate of the victim, at the preliminary hearing.
Morales, Peter, Montano and Crane face life in prison; Torrentes faces up to eight years.
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.