A 21-year-old man will be headed to prison after a Merced County jury Wednesday convicted him of participating in the brutal gang rape of a 16-year-old female in Livingston.
It took jurors about three hours to convict Leobardo Mendoza on four felony counts: gang rape, rape, false imprisonment and statutory rape. The trial began Sept. 6.
The crime happened Jan. 16 at a residence on Tehama Drive. The victim and another girl were planning to attend a high school party in the Modesto area. Mendoza and some of his friends offered to take the girls to the party, according to Deputy District Attorney Monika Saini, the prosecutor in the case.
Instead of going to the party, however, the girls were taken back to the Tehama Drive residence, where a party attended by gang members was happening. There, the victim was sexually assaulted several times by Mendoza and four other males, Saini said.
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The victim didn't report the rape for five weeks. A Merced County Sheriff's deputy learned of the gang rape, however, after seeing the victim with self-inflicted cuts on her body. The deputy asked the victim what was wrong, and she eventually confided in him about the crime.
Livingston Police Detective Robert Silva took on the case. Mendoza and three other suspects were taken into custody.
Saini said the victim was extremely brave for testifying and facing the rapist in court. "She's very courageous and the jury honored that courage by finding the defendant guilty," Saini said. "We are very grateful to the jury. It wasn't an easy case for anyone to listen to."
Mendoza was represented by Deputy Public Defender Kimberly Boortz. At first, Mendoza denied the rape. But after detectives found his DNA on the victim's clothes, he claimed the sex was consensual.
The other suspects, 18-year-old Edgar Partida and 20-year-old Rudy Gamboa, pleaded no contest to statutory rape charges. Both were sentenced to a year in county jail. The case of the third suspect, a 17-year-old male, is being handled in juvenile court.
Detectives are still searching for the fifth suspect in the case, who allegedly pistol-whipped the girl during the rape. His name hasn't been released.Mendoza faces five to nine years in prison. He's scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 12.
Managing Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.