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Juveniles Face Trial as Adults in Assault

Crime: Orange County prosecutors say the brutal rapes and beatings of two young couples made the decision easy. The three are ages 15 to 17.

July 18, 2001|JACK LEONARD and MAI TRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Citing the horrifying nature of the crime, Orange County prosecutors on Tuesday charged three Anaheim boys who allegedly took part in a brutal July 3 attack at Black Star Canyon with more than 50 felony counts and said they would try the defendants as adults.

The three juveniles--and two adult suspects--are accused of repeatedly raping two girls--ages 13 and 15--and beating their boyfriends, ages 15 and 16--with a metal rod and a rock, fracturing one boy's skull. The girls were driven to an isolated area and dumped, leaving them to crawl naked through the scrub until they found help.

The juvenile defendants' ages range between 15 to 17.

If convicted as adults, the boys would face maximum sentences of hundreds of years in prison.

Authorities last weekend arrested five suspects in the case, including two 19-year-old men who have yet to be charged.

Officials said details of the attack were so shocking that the district attorney's office instantly decided to try the juveniles in adult court.

"It's a horrendous compilation of crimes," Senior Assistant Dist. Atty. Claudia Silbar said in a written statement. "It's absolutely horrifying what these victims went through."

Tori Richards, spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said the attack falls within the category of serious crimes that state law permits be charged as adult felonies even if the defendants are teens.

"This is what the law was intended for--crimes like these," Richards said.

The teen suspects--Veruk Kim, 17, Jesus Rene Green, 16, and Phu Quoc Tran, 15--face charges ranging from kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon to kidnapping and rape.

The three boys were reared within a few blocks of each other. Their families defended them on Tuesday, saying each had recently fallen in with the wrong crowd.

Tran's mother, Maria Nguyen, said her son told her when she visited him at Juvenile Hall that he watched the attack but did not take part. He told her, she said, that he was terrified as events unfolded and didn't know what to do.

"I am going crazy," said Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant. "I can't sleep. I'm in shock. I can't believe he got involved with an evil and heinous crime."

Tran, she said, was obedient and well-mannered at home, and devoted himself to study while at school. She showed off a wall of awards won by the Katella High School 10th-grader, including a 1998 certificate signed by President Clinton for outstanding achievement.

It was in the neighborhood that Tran met Kim, a Cambodian immigrant who lived just a few doors down. The pair shared a love of video games and basketball--and it was while playing hoops at a local park that Tran began associating with people she didn't approve of, the mother said.

"I watch him as carefully as I can," Nguyen said. "But when he goes to play basketball, I can't sit out there all day long."

Kim's mother, who declined to give her name, said she, too, blamed her son's friends for the trouble he is in.

"He has too many bad friends," she said, adding that she does not believe he was involved in the violence. "I am so sad."

Green's sister, Maria Green, said her brother is a good student at Anaheim's Loara High School and that he'd never been in trouble before.

"He was the type of guy who would stay home and listen to music," said Maria Green, 19. "He'd go out and be back by 9."

Jesus Green's family befriended one of the adult suspects and his wife, and allowed the couple to live with them recently, she added.

Prosecutors filed the charges late Tuesday after sheriff's investigators asked the victims to identify their attackers from lineups Authorities declined to detail the outcome of the lineups.

Authorities said they expect to decide this week what charges to seek against the adult suspects, Cuahutemoc Torres of Orange, and Erick Oswaldo Dominguez of Anaheim. Both were being held in the Orange County jail in Santa Ana for alleged probation violations.

The five suspects are believed to be members or associates of Los Traviesos Krew--loosely translated as "the Mischievous Ones"--whose initials LTK were scrawled recently on a gate just yards from where the attack took place.

Torres and Dominguez, confessed to The Times this week that they and three friends attacked the couples after vandalizing their car. Both said the attack followed a night of drinking and drugs.

The two teenage couples had driven into the canyon and taken a walk in search of a house that is rumored to be haunted. When they returned to their car, they found the vehicle vandalized and were confronted by five assailants.

Efforts to contact the victims and their families were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Charging youths as adults has been the subject of debate in recent years. Proposition 21, approved by voters last year, made it easier for prosecutors to file such charges.

Times staff writer Jeff Gottlieb contributed to this story.

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