St. Paul rape victim recounts betrayal

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 12, 2012 - 9:48 PM

The teen's testimony kicks off a trial looking inside a violent gang and at a crime's impact.

Trembling as she took the witness stand and faced the man who allegedly had planned her rape by his fellow gang members, the frightened teen proceeded to tell jurors how she had kicked, screamed and grabbed at a door frame while being carried into the dark bedroom of the vacant house.

Watching, she said, was Mang Yang, the then- 23-year-old St. Paul man who had picked her up from school earlier and given her alcohol.

"I told him to 'help me!'" recalled the girl, who was 15 at the time of the attack. "He said he had to go."

The attack by one assailant lasted about five minutes, and the girl said she could hear someone calling for his turn. Suddenly the shadowy figures ran away, falsely believing someone had called the police.

Yang, she said, was standing in the doorway

"I felt really betrayed because I trusted him and expected him to help me," she said, "but he didn't."

On Wednesday, the opening day of Yang's trial in Ramsey County, prosecutor Heidi Westby said Yang and Kong "OG" Vang, 38, had planned for the girl to be raped by nine men and youths with ties to an Asian gang on Nov. 17, 2011. Yang and Vang have pleaded not guilty to four felony charges, including rape and committing a crime for the benefit of a gang.

Also charged in the wake of the attack were seven others, ranging in age from 15 to 37. All but Yang, Vang and two others have pleaded guilty and been sent to prison or a juvenile facility.

The trial promises to reveal the inner workings of one of St. Paul's most lethal gangs, the True Blood (TB22) gang known for shooting, stabbing, robbing and raping. The St. Paul Police Department and the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office mounted a major investigation into the attack, knowing that scores of Hmong girls in Minnesota have been raped or forced into prostitution in recent years, with many of the Hmong gang members who carried out the attacks going unpunished because shame kept victims from coming forward. Prosecutors and police want to send a message with tough prosecutions of the teen's accused rapists.

Westby is requesting an upward departure in sentencing that could send the defendants to prison for as long as 31 to 60 years because of the gang nature of the rape and the particular vulnerability of the intoxicated teen.

A teen scared and in denial

On Wednesday, Westby told jurors that when police caught up with Yang, he denied being in a gang but said he knew the True Blood members.

"He told them that he knew the gang got girls drunk and raped them," Westby said in an opening statement.

She told jurors that the girl was scared and in denial after the attack. A school principal and counselor had first approached the 10th-grader after hearing about the assault. Then, police officers worked with her and her parents to help deal with their fear of the gang and the stigma they believed she'd face.

"She's a Hmong girl, and they were afraid of what this would mean in their culture," Westby said.

Defense attorney Christopher Champagne asked jurors to look beyond their fear of gangs, and he told them that Yang was trying to help the girl, not attack her.

Champagne noted that the girl had told a nurse, while being examined for the sexual assault, that just before the assault, Yang had told her, "We need to leave."

On Wednesday, the petite teen told how Yang picked up her and her two friends from school, and they went to a house owned by Vang.

'A bad feeling'

They drank beer, including some given her by Yang. More gang members and associates showed up. From there, the girl rode with Vang to a vacant house his family owned at 219 White Bear Av.

By now, she was drinking shots of alcohol and grew concerned. "It didn't make sense," she said, "I was intoxicated, and there were just two girls there." She said she wanted to leave and got in the back seat of Yang's car.

"I had a bad feeling that something was going to happen," she remembered.

When Yang didn't drive them home, a friend tried to call someone else for a ride. But Johnny Her, 15, and Shaileng "Shy" Lor, then 17, had come out to the car and were loud. The friend walked away.

Her and Lor, who have pleaded guilty to charges connected to the rape, later admitted carrying the girl into the house, allegedly at Yang's behest.

"They grabbed me out of the car and brought me inside the house," she said on Wednesday, while crying. "I was struggling. I was just moving a lot, my arms, legs ... I was trying to get loose."

Joy Powell • 651-925-5038

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