The eldest of nine men and youths charged with the gang-related rape of a 15-year-old pleaded guilty on Tuesday to two out of four felony counts.
The jurors were about to be sworn in when Kong “OG” Meng Vang, 39, surprised his attorney and others with his guilty plea in Ramsey County District Court. He’s the seventh defendant to be convicted in connection with the November 2011 attack.
Vang, who had a clean record, could have faced a 30-year sentence if he had been convicted at trial, though he didn’t commit the physical act of rape. The girl had been raped by at least one other defendant before Vang allegedly yelled out that someone had called police, and the suspects ran off.
Co-defendants who entered pleas had agreed to testify against Vang. Each of the nine had been charged with four crimes: first-degree criminal sexual conduct, conspiracy to commit rape, kidnapping and committing a crime for the benefit of a gang.
Vang pleaded guilty to the charges of conspiracy and committing a crime for the benefit of a gang. Sentencing guidelines call for an eight-year sentence, with two-thirds served in prison. The other two charges were dismissed.
Judge Gregg E. Johnson set sentencing for April 13.
Under questioning from Assistant County Attorney Heidi Westby, Vang admitted that he knew that the gang raped girls and that it was done for the benefit of a gang.
The defendants were members or associates of a violent True Blood gang, known for drive-by shootings, auto thefts, rapes and other crimes. In an earlier trial, witnesses testified that when the gang members threw parties, they and their friends would try to get girls drunk and rape them.
Vang’s sister owned a house in the 500 block of Maryland Avenue where the group began drinking with the 10th-grader and two of her friends on the evening of Nov. 17, 2011.
As the men plotted to rape the 15-year-old, the group moved in cars to a vacant home in the 200 block of White Bear Avenue. Vang drove the girl to the second location, she testified in an earlier trial. In court Tuesday, Vang said that he didn’t drive the girl; his nephew did.
Vang had owned that two-story house before it went into foreclosure. He allegedly broke a basement window to let the others in, according to testimony in a co-defendant’s case. That man, Mang Yang, was convicted as a ringleader and is yet to be sentenced, but it’s expected he could serve about 24 years. He is Vang’s nephew.
A 17-year-old, Jim Her, is expected to be tried in juvenile court. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday that Her had been improperly certified to stand trial as an adult. Prosecutors, still wanting to try Her as an adult, on Tuesday said they will ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the decision.
One final adult, Vanchai Xiong, is set for a jury trial, most likely in April. Vang is expected to testify against him, as part of his plea deal.