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Trial Opens in Canyon Gang-Rape Case

The prosecutor plans to use a jailhouse confession given by two of the men to a newspaper reporter.

June 25, 2003|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

A prosecutor indicated to jurors Tuesday that he would use a jailhouse confession obtained by a newspaper reporter as key evidence in the case against three young men accused of raping two girls and beating their boyfriends in Black Star Canyon two years ago.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeff Levy revisited the attacks in graphic detail during his opening statement in the Superior Court trial, showing photos of the bloody wounds and torn clothing of the victims as he described a night of horror and chaos.

Levy told jurors that evidence would include an interview that defendant Erick Oswaldo Dominguez gave to a Los Angeles Times reporter, during which Dominguez incriminates himself.

"He says, 'Oh, I raped the 13-year-old, but as soon as she told me she was 13, I stopped,' " Levy said, excerpting part of the published interview.

Dominguez and co-defendants Cuahutemoc Torres and Jesus Rene Green each face 39 felony counts, ranging from vandalism to kidnapping to rape in the July 3, 2001, attacks against the two couples in the rugged canyon in northern Orange County. Their trial in Santa Ana is expected to last five weeks.

"When it's done, you will discover that all three of these people are guilty of everything that happened that night," Levy told jurors.

Attorneys for the defendants acknowledged their clients were responsible for some of the crimes but asked the jury to reserve judgment on all of the charges until they hear the evidence.

"You're going to find that Mr. Dominguez did some pretty horrible things," said his lawyer, Tammy Miller. "But I'm also going to ask you to find him not guilty of the crimes he didn't commit that night."

Miller did not say, either during or after the court proceedings, what crimes she believes her client committed. Lawyers for Torres and Green, on the other hand, told jurors that the evidence will show their clients were innocent of any sexual crimes.

The government plans to call more than 20 witnesses. On the list for Tuesday afternoon were a driver who was flagged down on a canyon road by the two boys after the attacks, and a lead investigator.

Levy said he also expects to call two other defendants previously sentenced in the case, Veruk Kim, 17, and Phu Tran, 15. The teens, who said they tried to stop the attacks, pleaded guilty to robbery and other crimes under an agreement with prosecutors and are serving time in juvenile facilities, where they can be held until they are 25.

A centerpiece of the case, Levy said, will be the testimony of Los Angeles Times reporter Mai Tran, who interviewed Dominguez and Torres in jail and was subpoenaed by the Orange County district attorney's office.

Tran reported July 17, 2001, that Dominguez and Torres, both 19 at the time of the attacks, cried as they admitted to and apologized for the attacks, saying the violence was unplanned and followed an evening of drinking, drugs and vandalism.

Attorneys for Tran filed a motion to quash the prosecutor's subpoena, asserting her rights under the California Shield Law and the 1st Amendment not to reveal unpublished information.

The Shield Law and the 1st Amendment protect journalists from being held in contempt of court for refusing to disclose unpublished information gathered for news purposes, whether or not the information or the source of it is confidential.

Times reporters regularly resist subpoenas so they are not perceived as working for the prosecution or the defense.

Last week, the judge denied Tran's motion to quash the entire subpoena. However, he did order that her testimony will be limited to questions about published material only.

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