MARTINEZ -- Over the sobs of distraught family members, the youngest defendant in the notorious Richmond High School gang rape case on Friday took a plea deal in exchange for the promise of a 27-year prison sentence.
Nineteen-year-old San Pablo resident Ari Morales -- one of six men and boys ordered to trial for the Oct. 24, 2009, attack on a 16-year-old girl in a darkened campus courtyard -- could have received a life sentence had he been convicted by jury.
Through a stream of tears, his 23-year-old sister said her brother never sexually touched the victim, despite his statement to police when he was arrested at age 16, and that he took the plea deal because he doesn't believe he can get a fair trial in the highly publicized case.
"He was forced to admit to something he didn't do by detectives who played a ruse on him," said the woman who would not give her name "for fear of retaliation."
"It's an injustice, and I've lost all faith in the justice system," she said.
The victim was beaten, robbed, repeatedly raped and otherwise sexually abused for more than two hours as spectators watched after she left the school's homecoming dance that night and began drinking brandy with a group of men and teen boys. Police found her unconscious, partially nude and battered under a picnic table after spotting a number of people running from their approaching patrol cars.
While seven people were initially charged, DNA evidence and witness accounts indicate there were other participants who were never identified by police. A 15-year-old classmate of the victim's was the youngest person charged before a judge dismissed his case at preliminary hearing.
Morales was the second defendant to take a plea deal when he pleaded guilty Friday to rape by a foreign object in concert, and no contest to rape in concert, and forcible oral copulation in concert. Manuel Ortega, 22, was the most heavily charged in the case. He pleaded guilty in September and was sentenced last month to 32 years in prison.
There was testimony at the preliminary hearing that Morales stole the girl's ring, urinated on her, and penetrated her with a walkie-talkie.
Morales' sister said her brother, intoxicated at the time, is responsible for theft and urination, but that he's innocent of the penetration.
"They interviewed him for two hours by himself and told him it was a silly crime, if he just admitted it, they would let him go," she said. "He didn't know what he was admitting to. Our parents are immigrants; they didn't know his rights."
Senior deputy district attorney John Cope said Friday that outside of Morales' confession to police, the evidence against the teen was strong. He said there is scientific evidence, as well as independent eyewitness accounts, that Morales was an active participant and aided and abetted others in the sexual assault.
"He assisted in dragging her to different locations," Cope said.
Morales was a Gompers Continuation High School sophomore at the time of his arrest. His sister says she hasn't had a full night's sleep since he was taken into custody.
"It's been a nightmare three years. We were a happy family. Ari is a good brother, good son. He brought a lot of joy to our home," she said.
Four defendants remain scheduled for trial in January in the case. The charges against Richmond residents Jose Carlos Montano, 21, and John Crane Jr., 45, and Pinole resident Marcelles Peter, 20, call for a life sentence. Defendant Elvis Torrentes, of Richmond, 25, is facing up to eight years.
Morales will be sentenced Jan. 11.
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.