Defendants in Richmond gang rape case plead not guilty 

Six defendants accused of beating and gang raping a 16-year-old girl outside of Richmond High School's homecoming dance in October 2009 pleaded not guilty Wednesday to numerous felony charges.

The defendants were arraigned in a Martinez courtroom Wednesday morning, and all agreed to a tentative trial date of Sept. 4, 2012.

In December, the six defendants were ordered to stand trial for the beating and gang rape, which occurred in a dark courtyard on the Richmond High campus.

Five of the six defendants are facing maximum terms of life in prison if convicted, while one defendant, 23-year-old Elvis Torrentes, of Richmond, could serve up to eight years in prison.

In the preliminary hearing in the case last year, a Richmond police detective testified that the victim told investigators she was about to leave the campus after the dance when a friend, then-15-year-old Cody Smith, led her to a courtyard to drink alcohol with him and his friends.

Smith was not held to answer on any charges and was released from Juvenile Hall in December.

The victim told police that after drinking some brandy, feeling dizzy and passing out, the next thing she could recall was waking up in a hospital with a tube down her throat.

Her blood-alcohol level was measured at .36, and she was unconscious for much of the attack, although witnesses said that at times they heard her whimpering, crying, screaming for help and kicking her attackers.

Police said witnesses reported seeing 21-year-old Manuel Ortega, of Richmond, punch and kick the victim in the head after she would not give him oral sex, then allegedly stepped on the victim's head while 19-year-old Jose Montano of Richmond allegedly raped her.

Defendants Ari Morales, 18, of San Pablo, and 19-year-old Marcelles Peter, of Pinole, have admitted to penetrating the victim with foreign objects, police said.

Torrentes has been charged with penetration of an intoxicated person, as he allegedly put his finger in the victim's vagina while she sat on his lap, according to witness accounts given to police.

Although no witnesses said they saw the sixth defendant, 44-year-old Richmond resident John Crane, Jr. during the attack, a DNA expert testified in the preliminary hearing that Crane's semen was found all over the victim and on evidence at the scene. He was charged with forcible rape while acting in concert.

The defendants are next scheduled to appear in court on March 23, 2012.

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