A reputed gang member who authorities say masterminded the rape of a 15-year-old girl who trusted him as a friend was convicted in the attack Friday.
Mang Yang, who turned 25 on the day of his conviction, is the first of nine men and boys charged in the attack to be convicted by a jury. It took about four hours for jurors to convict Yang on all four counts in the Nov. 17, 2011, rape that shocked the community and authorities with its brutality and number of suspects. The case was complicated not only by the sensitive nature of sexual assault investigations, but also because of the defendants' affiliation with the violent street gangs True Blood 22 (TB22) and Blood Brothers, known for knife assaults, drive-by shootings and home burglaries that plagued cities across the metro area.
"We certainly never thought that the defendant was a choir boy," said a juror who asked not to be named for his safety.
Yang was convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, conspiracy to commit first-degree criminal sexual conduct, and crime committed for the benefit of a gang.
So far Yang faces the toughest sentencing of the group. Five co-defendants have pleaded guilty to fewer counts.
Most are serving eight years in prison. One, Vang Vue, is serving 21 years.
A guideline sentence for Yang is 24 years, but because jurors also found that there were aggravating factors in his case -- that more than three people were involved and that the victim was particularly vulnerable mentally or physically -- prosecutors could seek a much longer sentence. Two co-defendants are scheduled to go to trial this month. A third case in juvenile court remains active.
"We are pleased with the jury's verdict, which sends an important message to a bright and beautiful girl who is making progress from being a victim of a brutal gang rape to a survivor, her family and to other girls and women who have been sexually assaulted," Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said in a statement.
Prosecutor Heidi Westby presented evidence that Yang planned the attack on the girl, who ran to him for help just before she was dragged by others into a bedroom.
Yang picked up the girl and some friends, took them to two house parties, plied her with alcohol and instructed two co-defendants to drag her from the back seat of a car into a house when her female friend tried to get away, witnesses testified.
She was raped in a vacant house on White Bear Avenue by Vue as others held onto her arms and legs.
Yang's attorney, Christopher Champagne, tried to direct the blame toward others.
Three friends turned
Three co-defendants who accepted plea bargains testified at Yang's trial. Champagne noted that they were close friends, and received considerably shorter prison terms in exchange for their testimony, which placed the responsibility on Yang.
Champagne introduced the possibility that other co-defendants, including Johnny Her, who pleaded guilty and testified against Yang, planned the attack. Yang broke up the assault, Champagne said in his closing arguments.
The jury, five women and six men, deliberated for about three hours Thursday afternoon and a little more than one hour Friday before reaching its decision.
Three jurors had been dismissed for various reasons, and Yang elected to proceed with 11.
Audio tape reviewed
One juror said that the jury's key concern was whether Yang knew that the attack was planned. The notion that someone else may have masterminded it was not as important, he said.
The jury asked Friday morning to review an audio recording of Yang's interview with police, in which he admitted that he knew the rape was going to happen.
"From the get-go, there wasn't anyone screaming not guilty," the juror said.
Throughout the trial, Yang's whereabouts when the girl was in the bedroom have been vaguely recounted by witnesses, something Champagne latched onto in his defense. A juror said the jury couldn't come to a conclusion as to where he was when the attack started, but agreed that he was in the room at some point.
"It's good to know that we were able to get a guilty verdict with respect to the first four cases that are going to be presented before a jury," Choi said. "It's significant in that sense."
When indictments were announced against the suspects in March, authorities feared that there could be more victims, but no other cases have been brought forward.
In a police interview, Yang said there had been at least one other rape linked to the gang.
Yang is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 27.
Chao Xiong 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib