Gang members used an anti-gay slur to ask twoteen boys and a 30-year-old man about their sexuality beforebrutally torturing and beating them last week in a working-classBronx neighborhood, authorities said in court, where eight suspectsstood with drooped heads at their first appearance as theirrelatives wept behind them.
During the proceeding Sunday, Assistant District AttorneyTheresa Gottlieb said that each victim was asked prior to beingbeaten in the Oct. 3 attacks: "Is it true that you're a fag?"
The defendants did not enter pleas to charges that includerobbery, assault, sexual abuse and unlawful imprisonment as hatecrimes. The most serious charge carried a potential 25-year prisonterm. Police were looking for a ninth suspect, who had beenexpected to turn himself in but didn't show.
The nine men, members of the Latin King Goonies gang, had hearda rumor one of their teenage recruits was gay and on the night ofOct. 3, found him, stripped and beat him and sodomized him with aplunger handle until he confessed to having had sex with a man,police say. The gang members then found a second teen theysuspected was gay and tortured him, police say.
They also invited the man the first teen had admitted having sexwith to a house, telling him they were having a party, police say.When he arrived, five of them burned, beat and tortured him forhours, police say.
The man was sodomized with a miniature baseball bat by adefendant who taunted him with, "You like that. You like that,"the criminal complaint said.
Two of his attackers went to his home, court papers andauthorities said, where they encountered the man's brother. Theypunched him, bound his hands with rope, put tape around his headbefore and threw a mattress on top of him, authorities said, anddemanded money and jewelry and threatened him with death beforeleaving with cash and a 52-inch flat-screen television.
The suspects were identified as Ildefonzo Mendez, 23; ElmerConfresi, 23; David Rivera, 21; Steven Caraballo, Denis Peitars,Nelson Falu and Bryan Almonte, all 17; and Brian Cepeda, 16.
Bronx Criminal Court Judge Harold Adler set bail for Peitars andCaraballo at $100,000 bond or $50,000 cash; the other six were heldwithout bail.
Two attorneys, Paul Horowitz and Fred Bittlingmeyer, representedthe eight at the hearing but didn't expect to represent all of themthrough the legal process.
Bittlingmeyer, representing Peitars, said his client onlypunched one of the complainants after the other defendants saidthey "were going to find out who the men are in this room and whothe fags are in this room."
Bittlingmeyer said if Peitars didn't throw a punch he would havebeen attacked himself. He also denied it was a scheme by a gang,describing it as people getting together on a Sunday night and"one individual let it get out of hand."
Horowitz, representing Caraballo, said his client had notpreviously been in trouble with the law and denies the allegations.He said the only offense of which Caraballo was accused was hittingone of the complainants with his fist.
Falu's mother, Caroline Falu, said her son is a "good boy."
"I just know my son is innocent," she said. "I know my son.He's not like that."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he was sickened by the accusationsof violence "and saddened by the anti-gay bias." The beatings inthe Bronx followed a string of anti-gay attacks and teen suicidesattributed to anti-gay bullying.
Gay men and women live openly in Morris Heights, the largelyHispanic neighborhood where the Oct. 3 beatings took place, andwhile residents were disturbed by some past violent behavior blamedon the defendants, some said they hadn't previously targetedhomosexuals.
On Sunday, outside the four-story brick building where policesay the assaults happened, a police officer was posted inthree-wheeled scooter, and crime scene tape stretched across thebottom of it. Children played in the street in front of the home,which faces Primary School 226.
An assortment of colorful flowers were laid in front of the homewith a sympathy card that read: "Prayers for healing - for ourcommunity."
Two blocks away, young men stood on the corner outside thebuilding where the 30-year-old victim and his brother live in afifth-floor walk-up. A sign at the building's entrance warned thatit was patrolled by the police department's Operation Clean Halls.
In the deli on the main floor of the building, Jose Aurelio saidthe 30-year-old victim stopped in every morning on his way to thebus, often just to say hello.
"He comes here every day, happy, nice," he said. "Everybodyliked him."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times