MARTINEZ -- Opening statements Monday will kick off a rare dual jury trial for two men charged in the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl on the Richmond High School campus after a 2009 homecoming dance.
Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga summoned about 900 potential jurors over four months before seating two panels to deliberate at the first trial in the notorious case that prompted a failed change-of-venue motion because of the high level of community outrage and national publicity.
On trial are 22-year-old Richmond resident Jose Montano and 20-year-old Pinole resident Marcelles Peter, who each assert innocence in connection with the Oct. 24, 2009, attack that went on for hours in a dark campus courtyard before a woman in the neighborhood caught word of what was happening and called 911.
The victim was beaten, robbed and repeatedly raped and otherwise sexually abused as she slipped in and out of consciousness from drinking a near-fatal amount of brandy with a group of males after leaving the school dance, according to testimony at a 2010 preliminary hearing for seven men and teen boys originally charged.
All charges were dismissed against the youngest defendant at that hearing, a boy who was a 15-year-old classmate of the victim. Another two defendants took plea deals to avoid trial.
Ari Morales, 19, of San Pablo, was sentenced to 27 years in prison in February after pleading guilty to rape by a foreign object in concert, and no contest to rape in concert and forcible oral copulation in concert. Manuel Ortega, 22, of Richmond, considered a ring leader in the crime, was sentenced to 32 years in prison for rape in concert, rape by a foreign object in concert, forced oral copulation in concert resulting in great bodily injury, and robbery.
Two lesser-charged men, whose rape-in-concert charges were dismissed either at preliminary hearing or afterward, are pending trials to be scheduled in August.
Law enforcement has the DNA profiles of several other males who participated in the attack but to this day have not been identified. Even more watched the event but did nothing to help the girl.
The victim will take the witness stand for the first time at the current trial, which is expected to go through mid-July. The West Contra Costa Unified School District paid her $4 million in 2011 to settle a civil claim filed because the gang rape occurred on campus, despite the security present for the dance.
Dual juries are rarely paneled in California but are considered necessary when there are inadmissible statements as to one defendant but not the other. Each jury will hear opening statements and closing arguments separately, will deliberate separately, but will hear the bulk of the witness testimony together. The juries are not allowed to mingle inside or out of the courtroom, and will be identified by different color-coded badges.
The last dual jury trial case in Contra Costa County was in 2010 for the leader and two street soldiers in a violent West County street gang convicted in connection with a 2007 and 2008 killing spree in San Pablo.
In the current trial, Peter's jury will hear opening statements Monday afternoon, and Montano's jury will hear its openings on Tuesday morning, according to court staff. The first witness is expected to take the stand Tuesday afternoon.
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.