MARTINEZ -- A 19-year-old San Pablo man was sentenced Friday to 27 years in state prison for his role in the gang rape of a Richmond High School girl in a dark campus courtyard in 2009.

Ari Morales, one of six men and boys ordered to trial in the nationally publicized case, took a plea deal to avoid spending the rest of his life in prison for the attack outside a homecoming dance at the high school. The youngest defendant, Morales, had turned 16 a month before the Oct. 24, 2009, attack and, like many of the participants, was heavily intoxicated that night.

"Alcohol played a lot in what happened that night," Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga said at sentencing. "It's almost inconceivable when you read about the facts of this case and what happened to that young woman. She was dehumanized," Zuniga said.

Photo of Ari Morales provided by the Richmond Police Department.
Photo of Ari Morales provided by the Richmond Police Department. (Contributed)

The 16-year-old victim was beaten, robbed, repeatedly raped and otherwise sexually abused for more than two hours as she slipped in and out of consciousness, according to testimony at a 2010 preliminary hearing for the defendants. Many spectators watched the attack, which started after the girl got sick drinking brandy with a group of males at a campus picnic table.

Police were finally called when word of what was happening reached a young woman who lived in the neighborhood. Men and teen boys were seen running from the rape site as police pulled up to find the unconscious and partially nude victim under the picnic table.

Morales was the second defendant to take a plea deal when he pleaded guilty in November to rape by a foreign object in concert, and no contest to rape in concert and forcible oral copulation in concert. There was testimony at the preliminary hearing that Morales stole the girl's ring, urinated on her, penetrated her with a walkie-talkie, and helped drag her around.

"I will forever regret not doing something to help the girl," Morales is quoted in a probation report.

Morales' parents and siblings said they believe Morales is innocent of any sex crimes. He wiped tears from his face as they took turns telling the judge how their family has been devastated in the three years since his arrest.

In a rare allowance by the judge, one by one, they hugged the handcuffed defendant before he was ushered out of the courtroom.

"It was an unfortunate circumstance where he was in the wrong place at the wrong time," his 23-year-old sister, Maria Morales, told the judge. "I believe my brother; he's innocent."

The victim and her family chose not to attended the sentencing as there are four remaining defendants facing trial, senior deputy district attorney John Cope said.

Defendants Jose Carlos Montano, 22, of Richmond, and Marcelles Peter, 20, of Pinole, remain jailed as they await a Jan. 24 trial on charges of rape in concert. They are each facing a life sentence if convicted.

A judge last year dismissed the rape in concert charges against the oldest defendant, 46-year-old John Crane Jr., of Richmond, and ordered him released from jail. Crane remains charged with raping the girl, however, and awaits the setting of a trial date. No trial date has been set for defendant Elvis Torrentes, of Richmond, 25, who is free on bail while charged with lesser sex crimes.

Manuel Ortega, 22, of Richmond, considered a ring leader to the crime, took a plea deal last year and was sentenced to 32 years in prison.

Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.