Attorneys for three boys accused of taking part in a brutal July 3 attack at Black Star Canyon said Wednesday they will fight efforts by the district attorney's office to try the teens as adults.
The defendants appeared in court for the first time Wednesday in an emotionally charged hearing punctuated by tears from their family members in the audience.
The teens are accused of repeatedly raping two girls--ages 13 and 15--and beating their boyfriends--ages 16 and 17--with a metal rod and a rock, fracturing one boy's skull.
Authorities last weekend arrested five suspects in the case, including two 19-year-old men who have not yet been charged.
Citing the severity of the crimes, prosecutors charged the three suspects--Veruk Kim,17, Jesus Rene Green,16, and Phu Quoc Tran,15--with more than 50 counts ranging from kidnapping and rape to assault. If convicted as adults, they would face maximum sentences of hundreds of years in prison.
"If you look at the gravity of the offenses, the age doesn't make a difference," said Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Claudia Silbar. "They knew what they were doing. They talked about it in advance. It was a two- to three-hour crime spree. There was plenty of time for them to think about what they were doing."
But defense attorneys said their clients should be tried as juveniles. If they are convicted as minors, the maximum punishment would be incarceration at the California Youth Authority until they turn 25. As convicted adults, the boys would be kept at the California Youth Authority until they are 18, then transferred to state prison for the remainder of their sentences.
"There's an obvious difference from a 15-year-old, an 18-year-old, a 25-year-old," said Doug Myers, a Santa Ana attorney representing Tran. "When we were 15, we're not as mature or responsible for our actions. It's not an excuse to commit a horrible crime . . . [But] it takes time for kids to grow up."
Myers said the youths would be far more likely to be rehabilitated in the juvenile system than if sent to prison.
"What we're doing is we're taking someone who's never been in trouble . . . and saying this person doesn't warrant any consideration of being treated in the juvenile system," he said.
Tran, Green and Kim were ordered Wednesday to remain at Juvenile Hall. They will be arraigned next week.
Clad in jail jumpsuits, the teens stood with handcuffs as Tran's mother, Maria Nguyen, sobbed uncontrollably. Green avoided eye contact with the crowd, where his mother stood teary-eyed with an interpreter. Kim's mother gave her youngest child a smirk then pounded her hand on her chest as she mouthed in Cambodian, "Everything is OK. Mom will be OK."
Silbar said the victims, meanwhile, are resting at home.
"They are relieved they're alive. The girls are too," Silbar said. "At one point, they weren't sure if they'd make it alive."