Five men accused of beating three Latino migrants in a vigilante baseball bat attack at an Alpine migrant encampment were ordered Thursday to stand trial.
The bulk of testimony in the three-day preliminary hearing in El Cajon Municipal Court centered on Dan Stout, 35, of Alpine. Stout is the husband of a woman whose alleged rape prompted the retaliatory attack, which left two Mexican men and one Guatemalan national seriously injured.
But Judge Larrie Brainard found there was sufficient evidence to bind all five defendants over for trial on assault and hate crime charges.
"It does appear that each of the defendants is a person who committed (the offenses) or aided and abetted," Brainard said, adding that it is not "simply a coincidence that these victims were Hispanic."
The evidence ranged from a ribbed wooden bedpost seized at defendant Charles Nocita's house that was identical to one used during the Oct. 1 attack, to testimony that defendant Ronald Aishman bragged about "kicking Mexican ass, and hitting a couple of home runs up in Alpine."
The judge allowed that secondhand testimony by a confidential informant only after a lengthy closed-chamber session with Deputy Dist. Atty. Luis Aragon and Aishman's attorney.
Brainard said that, if it hadn't been for the secondhand account of the conversation, relayed by Detective George Ward, Aishman would not have been ordered to stand trial.
The man reported the conversation with Aishman to the American Friends Service Committee, the Union-Tribune and to detectives but has asked that his name not be made public.
Defense attorneys focused on difficulties two of the victims had identifying their assailants in court.
Guatemalan national Oscar Mendoza had picked Aishman out of a photo lineup, but was unable to identify him in a live lineup or in the courtroom.
Victim Jose Luis Lopez also could not pick his assailant out of the line of five defendants seated in the courtroom.
The third victim, Leobardo Zarco, was not available to testify during the preliminary hearing, but had picked Ronald Inman, 22, of El Cajon, out of a photo lineup. Inman's attorney argued that Zarco was on medication when he identified Inman as his assailant and that he mistakenly thought Inman was Hispanic.
Inman's white supremacist tattoos also were raised as evidence that he may have participated in the attack.
Detective Gilbert Grayson testified Thursday that the Inman's tattoos include "Thank God I'm White" on his chest, "Pride" across the back of his right arm, and a German eagle and swastika on his lower back.
Brainard said the tattoos in themselves did not incriminate Inman, but that he had been identified by Zarco and the markings added a "small amount of evidence" to the general hate crime charges that all the men face.
Detective Ward testified that the fifth defendant--21-year-old Christopher Hastings of El Cajon--admitted that he participated in the planned attack. Hastings said in an interview with Ward that he met with two men at his house Oct. 1, borrowed a baseball bat from his neighbors and then drove assailants to and from the scene, acting as a lookout during the beatings.
Hastings, however, has declined to identify the other participants, his attorney said.
Aragon said he plans to file conspiracy charges before the case is tried.
Much of the testimony during the three-day hearing centered on Stout.
A detective testified that Stout admitted threatening migrants with a bat Sept. 25, the day after his wife reported being raped, and returning to the creekbed later that night with a knife and a flashlight "looking for Mexicans."
Other detectives testified that several neighbors and a friend of Stout's have come forward, stating that Stout tried to recruit them to help him retaliate against the migrants in the creekbed.
Two of those people said he boasted to them about participating in the attack after the fact.
Kim Stout told police that she was raped by one of three Latino men who pulled her into some bushes near the encampment the night of Sept. 24. Witnesses told investigators, however, that she willingly drank beer and had sex with several men that night.
None of the three men injured in the attack had anything to do with the incident that Kim Stout reported as a rape, investigators determined, and two of them had just arrived in Alpine the night before the assault in search of work.
Several defense attorneys tried to argue Thursday that the attack was not racially motivated.
"I don't think it would have made any difference who was in the gully. It could have been the Hungarian traveling circus," Aishman's attorney said.
But Aragon disputed that assertion.
"Sadly, rape in this community is an occurrence that happens very often," Aragon said. "But when is the last time this court heard of a husband of a rape victim and his friends going to a shopping mall, randomly picking out four or five white guys and beating them senseless because the alleged rape victim said her assailant was white?"