SALEM — The jury began deliberating yesterday in the case of a former Salem High School student charged with taking part in the gang rape of a 17-year-old classmate after a basketball game.
Jurors heard two very different takes on the evidence.
Rafael Nina-Brito, 22, of Lynn was charged with aggravated rape after the incident, which took place inside his mother's Lynn apartment in February 2008.
"Alcohol, marijuana, 17- and 18-year-old teenagers, hormones, Friday night, no parents," defense lawyer William Martin said in his closing argument to jurors yesterday. "That's what this case is all about."
Prosecutor Greg Friedholm suggested that may be how the night started, but it's far from how it ended.
"He and those guys turned his bedroom into their playground, and they had no regard for her dignity," the prosecutor said.
"He knows what happened is morally wrong," Martin said of his client. But Martin suggested that legally, Nina-Brito was not guilty of sexual assault.
"What this defendant and his three buddies did in that room ... it was not just morally wrong," Friedholm countered. "It was criminal. It was rape. It's a dark, ugly word, but it describes what happened that night."
Friedholm recalled testimony about how the girl, who had skipped going to her part-time job that night to meet a girlfriend, watch a basketball game in Lynn and, she admitted, drink, wound up stranded in Lynn without a ride home.
Her mother, furious that she had gone to pick up the girl at the supermarket where she worked and found that she was not there, did not come for her; another girlfriend said she would give her a ride but didn't show.
Finally, the girl called Harold Baltodano, whom she had briefly dated in their junior year and with whom she had stayed friends.
Baltodano told her he would give her a ride home. But he showed up with Nina-Brito and two other friends.
They began speaking Spanish, which she did not understand, and told her they were going to stop at "Johnny's" house. Instead, they headed for a liquor store, bought more alcohol, gave her some, encouraged her to try marijuana, and then brought her to Nina-Brito's home in Lynn.
"When they saw the condition she was in, they had no intention of bringing her home," Friedholm told jurors.
All the while, the girl repeatedly told them she needed to go home.
Instead, she ended up on the bed in Nina-Brito's tiny bedroom with four high school football players who collectively weighed more than 1,000 pounds, the prosecutor told the jury.
The girl testified that she was raped by three of the men and that Nina-Brito touched her, both on the breast and the genital area.
Nina-Brito told police that he tried but was physically unable to penetrate her, "so I called it a day."
"He was right there from the beginning, and he did everything he could (to take part)," Friedholm said. "It was his intent to have sex with (the girl). He participated. He was actively involved."
Martin argued to jurors that the girl came up with a claim of rape because "she was ashamed and embarrassed. Boys can't keep their mouths shut about something like that."
"What evidence have you heard that she consented?" Friedholm argued.
Almost immediately after she was dropped off at her girlfriend's house, she told the friend, "I was raped," Friedholm said.
Jurors will have the option to find Nina-Brito guilty of the lesser offenses of rape and indecent assault and battery, if they do not conclude that the state proved the elements of aggravated rape, such as force.
They may also consider Nina-Brito's conduct part of a "joint venture," in which even if he did not physically assault the girl, his role in enabling others to do so makes him just as culpable.
They also will be able to consider whether the girl's level of intoxication rendered her unable to consent.
Two of his co-defendants, Luis Arias and Justin Louf, pleaded guilty for their roles in the incident last week and are now serving state prison terms. Baltodano is due in court next month to be assigned a trial date.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis may be reached at 978-338-2521 or email@example.com.