A man wrongfully imprisoned for a rape in Huntington Beach secretly recorded confessions to the attack by five friends he had vainly hoped would clear him, prompting them to plead guilty.
The men entered the pleas after they learned they had been tape-recorded while describing the 1981 gang rape, said Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeoffrey L. Robinson.
David Navarro, 25, was sentenced in 1982 to 19 years in prison. He had been convicted of six counts of rape and six counts of forced oral copulation in the early morning beachfront attack on the woman and her boyfriend.
Awaiting retrial after his release last year on a legal technicality, Navarro returned to his old neighborhood wearing a hidden microphone and got his friends to describe the crime in detail.
He had steadfastly maintained his innocence but never implicated his friends during the trial, hoping they would exonerate him.
“He goes to trial and takes the witness stand. But he lies about there being a group of guys. He lied thinking his buddies were going to come to his rescue,” Robinson said Thursday.
The undercover tapes exonerate Navarro and he is now free, Robinson said. But each of his former friends faces up to 18 years in prison on one count of rape in concert with others and one count of forced oral copulation.
For Navarro, the guilty pleas ended a nightmare that began early Aug. 14, 1981, when police officers woke him from a drunken sleep on Huntington Beach and arrested him for rape.
According to Robinson, Navarro and seven others--all members of a street gang--were at Huntington Beach the morning of the rape, drinking and smoking marijuana. Navarro left his friends and passed out under a lifeguard stand.
About 2 a.m., the other men gang-raped the woman and beat her boyfriend unconscious, Robinson said.
Navarro was the only one police found, and the couple correctly identified him as one of the men they had seen earlier at the beach.
He refused to name his friends, and police never gathered enough evidence to arrest anyone else, although they knew there had been several attackers.
Last year, the state Court of Appeal threw out the conviction because of an error in the judge’s instructions to the jury and ordered a new trial.
But Navarro’s new attorney, Alex Forgette, persuaded prosecutors to give him a chance to prove his case by using the hidden microphone.
To spare the victim the ordeal of another trial, a bargain was struck and David Cadina, 22; Gregory Franco, 26; Anthony Ramirez, 26; Arthur Esquival, 20, and Tommy Gomez, 24, agreed to plead guilty to single counts of rape and oral copulation.
Ralph Perez Jr., 21, who was not implicated in the rape, pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact. Police have been unable to find a seventh man allegedly involved in the attack.