The plea deal came after jury selection had started in the trial of Manuel Ortega. Had he been found guilty by a jury, Ortega could have faced life in prison. Instead, he entered a plea that will put him behind bars for three decades.
Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga had few words for 22-year-old Ortega, the admitted attacker and primary instigator of a horrific gang rape that traumatized a Richmond community three years ago. In exchange for a plea of guilty to charges that included rape in concert, rape with a foreign object and sexual assault with great bodily injury, Ortega received 32 years in state prison.
"What weighed the need for justice in this case with the needs and sensitivities to the victim in this case and what would she go through if she were going to have to testify," prosecutor John Cope said.
The rape occurred in October 2009 after the 16-year-old Richmond student left a homecoming dance. She met up with a group of boys and men in a dark courtyard. Over a two hour period, she was beaten, robbed and raped repeatedly, while others watched and no one called police.
Ortega was the most heavily charged of six defendants.
"He wishes he could undo that night; he never wanted to happen what happened," Ortega's attorney Betty Barker said. "What I can tell you is that if it weren't for the intoxication that Mr. Ortega frequently suffered that he would be in a different place."
In court, Ortega's mother said she loved her son, but was very sorry for what happened to the young girl.
Even with time off for good behavior, Ortega will be in prison until he is nearly 50 years old.
"I think his one wish would be that when he gets out, his parents, his mother will still be alive and he could see her," Barker said.
There are still five defendants headed to trial in this case. In the years since the incident, the West Contra Costa School District settled with the victim for $4 million and put surveillance systems in all its middle and high schools.