3 Gang Members Get Lengthy Prison Terms in Huntington Beach Rape
Three gang members who pleaded guilty to raping a woman at Huntington Beach State Park after an innocent man spent 3 1/2 years in prison for the crime were given lengthy sentences Wednesday by a judge who lectured them about the trauma they caused the victim.
Two of the men, David Cadena, 22, and Anthony Ramirez, 26, were sentenced to 18 years in prison, the maximum possible sentence, by Superior Court Judge Francisco P. Briseno.
The third, Gregory Franco, 26, was given 16 years. That was the recommendation of Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeoff Robinson, who said that Franco was the only gang member who readily admitted his involvement and showed remorse.
Two other members of the gang, who were all from Santa Fe Springs, are awaiting sentencing.
David Navarro, 25, the only man who was arrested after the 1981 attack, was convicted after the victim and the man who had been with her during the attack identified him at his trial.
But it turned out that Navarro was innocent. Although he was a member of the Santa Fe Springs gang and had been on the beach that night, evidence later showed that he had not participated in the attack.
The woman and her boyfriend were on the beach late at night on Aug. 15, 1981, when they were approached by seven young men who beat the boyfriend senseless and repeatedly raped the woman. The two made their way to Pacific Coast Highway and flagged down a police officer. Navarro, found asleep on the beach, was arrested soon after that.
Navarro was granted a new trial by the 4th District Court of Appeal last year, primarily on the grounds that the eyewitness identification of him was not accurate. While he was free on bail awaiting a second trial, Navarro accepted a challenge from Robinson to prove his innocence by gathering evidence against the guilty parties.
Subsequently, Navarro went back to his old neighborhood with a wiretap hidden on his body and not only got his fellow gang members to admit their guilt, but to provide enough detail to show that he was not involved in the crime.
More than four years later, faced with evidence that Navarro had helped collect, attorneys for the main defendants tried to work out an arrangement for a guilty plea. Robinson agreed to drop additional charges against the men in exchange for pleading guilty to two counts. Robinson said the deal was struck to spare the victim the trauma of testifying at one or more new trials.
In addition to the three men sentenced Wednesday, others who pleaded guilty included Thomas Gomez, 24, and Arthur Esquivel, 20. Gomez’s sentencing has been set for July 14, and Esquivel will return from a 90-day state diagnostic study sometime in August for sentencing.
A sixth participant, Ralph Perez Jr., 21, was allowed to plead guilty to being an accessory after evidence showed that he had not actually participated in the rape. He was sentenced last week to 116 days in jail and three years’ probation. A seventh participant in the attack has reportedly fled to Mexico.
Briseno acknowledged in court Wednesday that he had received a great deal of mail from family and friends of the three gang members before him. He also acknowledged that their young age, and the fact they had no previous criminal record, might normally be factors in giving them lesser sentences.
But in this case, Briseno said, the heinous nature of the crime and the trauma experienced by the victim made it impossible for him to give the men anything less than the stiff sentences requested by the district attorney’s office.
“They (the defendants) got their break when we agreed to drop the other counts,” Robinson said later. “This crime was just too aggravated to let them off with anything less.”