Clad in a bulletproof vest and sporting a black eye, 16-year-old Ari Morales rose with his two underage co-defendants in Contra Costa Superior Court in Richmond and heard allegations pronounced that could land him behind bars for life.
The court arraigned Morales and two other suspects–15-year-old Cody Ray Smith and 17-year-old Marcelles Peter–as adults this morning in connection with Saturday’s campus gang-rape outside the Richmond High School homecoming dance that left a 15-year-old girl hospitalized for days.
“All of the factors point to no other decision than that they be tried as adults,” said Dara Cashman of the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office, who heads its Family Violence
Prevention Unit. “There’s something about the coldness of it . . . the attitude of both the people involved, and the people who saw or knew about it. It’s just very cold.”
A fourth defendant, 19-year-old Manuel Ortega, appeared separately for arraignment on charges of robbery, assault causing great bodily injury, rape in concert and an enhancement that makes him eligible for life in prison. The minors, each charged with rape with a foreign object, also could be eligible for life sentences if convicted; Morales also is charged with robbery.
Judge Peter A. Berger held all without bail. Only the babyfaced Smith entered a plea at the hearing: not guilty. All four are scheduled to return to court next week.
Cashman said her office will consider charging a fifth suspect, 21-year-old Salvador Rodriguez, arrested Tuesday night. Police continue to search for additional suspects, Richmond police Lt. Mark Gagan said.
The victim left the hospital Wednesday night, Cashman said. This newspaper does not identify victims of sexual assault without their consent.
A crowd turned out at the courthouse on 37th Street this morning to watch the arraignment. Several young women in the audience wore lavender ribbons, they said to represent their support for the victim.
Others came to support their loved ones among the accused.
“If they give him a life sentence, I guarantee the city of Richmond will be sued. I will sue the pants off them,” said Monica Peter, aunt of Marcelles Peter. “Trust me when I say he was just walking by.”
The younger Peter, a senior at North Campus High School on the Richmond High campus, is black. His aunt said she believes his enthicity played a role in his arrest.
“He’s a very good kid, never had any problems. He said he was just walking by. He said he heard something, but he just kept moving,” Peter said.