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Orange County Gang-Rape Trial of 3 Teenagers Goes to Jury

Defendants' lawyers say key evidence may have been altered. Prosecutor calls that a diversion.

June 24, 2004|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer

After weeks of conflicting and sometimes emotional testimony, jurors in a high-profile gang-rape case were asked Wednesday to determine the fate of three teens accused of sexually attacking an unconscious 16-year-old girl.

The trial ended much as it began in the Santa Ana courtroom, with attorneys at odds on what happened at the summertime party in Corona del Mar, where the girl met up with the three high school students.

Lawyers for the young men accused of raping the girl told the Orange County Superior Court jury to disregard the alleged victim's testimony and a videotape of the incident, saying neither is credible. The tape might have been altered, and the girl is a liar, they said.

But prosecutor Dan Hess, in his final statement Wednesday, told jurors that the defense's contentions of tainted evidence and the relentless attack on the alleged victim's character and credibility were part of a smokescreen to distract them from the footage.

"It's all to divert your attention away from the videotape," Hess said. "The tape is what they don't want you to watch. The tape lays out every single crime."

Gregory Scott Haidl, 18, Kyle Joseph Nachreiner and Keith James Spann, both 19, are charged with 24 felony counts, most of them charges of rape by intoxication or force and one of assault with a deadly weapon: a pool cue. If convicted, they face up to 55 years in prison.

Jurors, though, have the option of convicting them of misdemeanor charges.

Although the suspects and the alleged victim all lived in Rancho Cucamonga at the time, the incident occurred in the Corona del Mar home of Haidl's father, a high-ranking Orange County Sheriff's Department official.

The prosecutor's one-hour rejoinder to the three defense lawyers' closing arguments criticized them for trying to make the jurors believe that the girl, now 18 and called Jane Doe in court, was a consensual partner.

Authorities have said she appeared unconscious in the video soon after one of the defendants gave her a mixed drink, and the boys then took turns raping her and sexually assaulting her.

"There's no way that anyone, any reasonable person, could think that Jane Doe could give consent," Hess said.

But the boys had every reason to think she was a willing partner, their lawyers said. After drinking heavily, she had had sex with two of the youths the night before, she said in court, returning the next day knowing that they would likely expect the same kind of encounter.

"She basically created an atmosphere that resulted in this occurring," said Peter Morreale, Spann's lawyer, who gave his closing statement Wednesday morning.

The alleged victim is a habitual liar, prone to embellishment, who wouldn't have hesitated for a second to manipulate jurors just as she had the police in the case, Morreale said. "This case hinges on consent," he said. "There was consent."

As deliberations began, the eight-man, four-woman jury elected Juror No. 7, a man who appears to be in his 50s, as foreman. About an hour later, they asked to watch the video.

The jury is expected to resume deliberations today.

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