New York Eight gang suspects arrested in the torture of two teenage boys and a man in an anti-gay attack were arraigned Sunday on hate crime charges, standing in a courtroom with their heads down and their hands cuffed behind them as their relatives wept.
At the hearing, Assistant District Attorney Theresa Gottlieb said that during the Oct. 3 attack each victim was asked before being beaten, “Is it true that you’re a f--?”
The charges against the defendants include robbery, assault, sexual abuse and unlawful imprisonment as hate crimes. The defendants didn’t enter pleas, and police were looking for a ninth suspect, who had been expected to turn himself in but didn’t show up.
The nine members of the Latin King Goonies gang had heard a rumor one of their teenage recruits was gay and then found the teen, stripped him, beat him and sodomized him with a plunger handle until he confessed to having had sex with a man, police say. The gang members then found a second teen they suspected was gay and tortured him and the man, police say.
The gang members found the man by inviting him to a house, telling him they were having a party, police say. When he arrived, they burned, beat and tortured him for hours and sodomized him with a miniature baseball bat, police say.
A police officer was posted in three-wheeled scooter outside the four-story brick building Sunday, and crime scene tape stretched across the bottom of it. The home faces Primary School 226.
An assortment of colorful flowers were laid in front of the home with a sympathy card that read: “Prayers for healing — for our community.”
The suspects arraigned Sunday were identified as Ildefonzo Mendez, 23; Elmer Confresi, 23; David Rivera, 21; Steven Caraballo, Denis Peitars, Nelson Falu and Bryan Almonte, all 17; and Brian Cepeda, 16.
Bronx Criminal Court Judge Harold Adler set bail for Peitars and Caraballo at $100,000 bond or $50,000 cash; the other six were held without bail.
Two attorneys, Paul Horowitz and Fred Bittlingmeyer, represented the eight at the hearing but didn’t expect to represent all of them through the legal process.
Bittlingmeyer, representing Peitars, said his client only punched one of the complainants after the other defendants said they “were going to find out who the men are in this room and who the f--s are in this room.”
Bittlingmeyer said if Peitars didn’t throw a punch he would have been attacked himself. He also denied it was a scheme by a gang, describing it as people getting together on a Sunday night and “one individual let it get out of hand.”
Horowitz, representing Caraballo, said his client had not previously been in trouble with the law and “denies the allegations.” He said the only offense of which Caraballo was accused was hitting one of the complainants with his fist.
Falu’s mother, Caroline Falu, said her son is a “good boy.”
“I just know my son is innocent,” she said. “I know my son. He’s not like that.”
Mayor Michael Bloom-berg said he was sickened by the accusations of violence “and saddened by the anti-gay bias.” The beatings in the Bronx followed a string of anti-gay attacks and teen suicides attributed to anti-gay bullying that have led to nationwide soul-searching.
About a week ago, a patron at the Stonewall Inn, a Manhattan bar that’s been a symbol of the gay rights movement since protests over a 1969 police raid there, was beaten in an anti-gay attack, prosecutors said.
On Sept. 22, Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, 18, killed himself after his gay sexual encounter in his dorm room was broadcast online.
Days later, more than 500 people attended a memorial service for a 13-year-old central California boy, Seth Walsh, who hanged himself after enduring taunts from classmates about being gay.