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3 Guilty in O.C. Canyon Attacks

A jury convicts two men in the rapes of two girls in a remote area in July 2001. They and a third man are convicted in beatings of victims' boyfriends.

August 07, 2003|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

An Orange County jury on Wednesday convicted two men of raping two teenage girls and beating up their boyfriends in a remote canyon, but deadlocked on all of the sexual assault charges against a third defendant.

Erick Oswaldo Dominguez, 21, and Jesus Rene Green, 18, were each found guilty of all 39 felonies filed against them, including rape, molestation, kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon. They face possible multiple life prison terms when sentenced Oct. 17.

Cuahutemoc Torres, 21, was found guilty of nine lesser felonies related to the assaults of the boys and the vandalism and theft of their car. A judge declared a mistrial on the remaining 30 counts against him after the jury indicated that further deliberations would not lead to a verdict.

The jury, which spent eight days trying to sort out all the charges, cited the testimony of the two rape victims as the most compelling evidence. They said deliberations were marred by some serious shouting matches, mostly centered around whether Torres was involved, either directly or indirectly, in the sexual assaults.

"We had a big problem with it," said Joe Schwarz, 82, of Laguna Woods, who estimated that the jury spent half its time debating that issue. He said he believed strongly that Torres was as guilty as the other two, but "a lot of people wouldn't budge on it."

One of the holdout jurors was Eli Ginnis, 30, of Fountain Valley. He said he had significant doubts because there was never any direct testimony or evidence that Torres had touched either of the girls, whereas DNA and other evidence linked Dominguez and Green to those assaults.

"We found [Torres] guilty of everything we could find him guilty of," Ginnis said.

The two couples were attacked July 3, 2001, after taking a short midnight hike in Black Star Canyon, in a remote and rugged part of eastern Orange County. The boys, then 16 and 18, were pummeled with rocks, a metal rod and fists as they returned to their car. They were then tied up and the girls, then 13 and 15, were taken to different locations and raped.

Key evidence in the five-week trial included a jailhouse confession to a newspaper reporter and testimony from the victims and two juvenile defendants who cooperated with authorities under plea agreements and are now serving time.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeff Levy said he believes that "there is ample evidence" to convict Torres of all the charges but would not say whether he plans to retry him.

He has until Aug. 29 to decide. Until then, he instructed the victims not to speak with reporters.

Many of Torres' friends and relatives acknowledged that he made some bad decisions that night and expressed sympathy for the victims.

But they said they never believed that Torres could have hurt the girls, because he was raised by his mother, taught to respect women and was not violent.

"It was a tragic thing that happened to the girls ... and hopefully they will heal," said Lina Torres, his 22-year-old cousin. "He's a really good guy who made the wrong choice, and we love him."

For Dominguez and Green, the lone bright spot was that the jury cleared all three men of enhancements accusing them of being gang members.

"I'm happy the jury didn't buy any of the inflated gang charges," said attorney Joel Garson, who represented Green.

But he said that he was "disappointed that Green was found guilty of crimes that Mr. Dominguez committed that night."

Garson said he plans to appeal and will argue that it is cruel and unusual punishment to send his client to prison for life for rape, because he was only 15 at the time.

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