SAN MARCOS — A Superior Court Judge found enough evidence at a preliminary hearing May 5 to order three young men accused of a prolonged sexual assault on a Palomar College student to stand trial.
Vincent David Barnett, 22; Roberto Melgoza Jr., 21; and Brian Shippee, 21, are all charged with kidnap to commit rape as well as three counts of aiding and abetting the forcible rape, sodomy and oral copulation of a then-18-year-old San Marcos girl last May. Melgoza and Shippee are also charged with the forcible rape, sodomy and oral copulation of the victim.
Following the two-day hearing, Deputy District Attorney Dan Rodriguez said there is a possibility his office will charge Barnett with acting in concert with the co-defendants relating to the latter three charges.
The kidnapping charge alone carries a life in prison sentence, Rodriguez said.
Judge K. Michael Kirkman set a May 19 arraignment date, at which time a trial date may be set. At the request of the defendants’ attorneys, Kirkman reduced Barnett and Melgoza’s no bail hold to $1 million bail. Because Shippee is being held for violating his probation, he continues to have a no bail hold.
If the case goes to trial, the victim, who didn’t testify at the preliminary, would be required to take the stand.
Under California law, victims in sexual assault cases do not have to testify at the preliminary hearing. Instead, peace officers are allowed to testify about the victims’ statements.
Sheriff’s detective Kimberly Houry testified the victim told police she befriended Barnett on MySpace around 4 p.m. May 13, 2008. Then around 7 p.m., Barnett and Shippee picked the victim up from Palomar College at her request in Shippee’s mother’s SUV, the detective said. They then drove to a nearby drugstore where they bought a bottle of alcohol and met up with Melgoza and his friend, Chad Brown, Houry testified. After the group drank for a while at a nearby industrial park, Barnett, Shippee and the victim went back to Shippee’s residence and the three of them went into a neighbor’s vacant travel trailer that was adjacent to Shippee’s house, the detective said.
It was at this point that the victim told authorities she started feeling the effects of the alcohol and then passed out, Houry said. When she awoke, the victim said she was in the back of the SUV and Melgoza was sexually assaulting her; then Shippee raped her, the detective testified. As the rape was happening, she said Barnett was in the front passenger seat taking pictures with his cell phone, Houry said.
The victim said she went in and out of consciousness while being raped, Houry testified. She said the next thing she remembers is being taken to another industrial area, the detective said. Wearing only a torn T-shirt and a sheet, she said she was pushed onto a mat near a loading dock and raped again by Shippee and Melgoza, while Barnett and some other people cheered and antagonized her, Houry testified. As the defendants prepared to leave, the victim said she tried to walk away, but the group of males took her back and pushed her down on the mat, the detective said.
After the men left, the victim wandered about the industrial area near Distribution Way in San Marcos until she came to a gas station about a mile away and called police; it was now approximately 1 a.m. May 14, Houry testified.
The victim had a .01 blood alcohol level three hours later and a toxicology exam came back negative for any drugs in her system, the detective testified.
Patricia Secor, a nurse who examined the victim immediately following the alleged rapes, testified internal injuries to the victim’s genitals were consistent with the teenager’s account of the incident.
During the interview with Secor, the victim said she was positive Barnett didn’t have sex with her.
After learning the authorities wanted to talk to them about the case, Barnett and Shippee voluntarily came down to the Vista Sheriff’s station to be interviewed, Houry testified. Prior to the interview, the two defendants were placed in an interview room together where they were recorded without their knowledge, the detective said. During that time, Houry said the two men discussed what happened with the victim, as if trying to get their story straight. Also Barnett said he would “take it off” and then opened his phone and appeared to delete an unidentifiable item, Houry said.
Both men collaborated the victim’s story up to the point that they were in the travel trailer, Houry said. Shippee said he and the girl had consensual sex in the trailer, the detective testified. He also said the victim gave him and Barnett oral sex while they were at the RV, Houry said. After leaving the trailer, Barnett and Shippee said they went to a Jacuzzi in an apartment complex near his house, but left shortly after the victim seemed to be getting along with two other young males, the detective testified.
While Barnett and Shippee’s stories matched up, Houry said there was a discrepancy about whether the two unidentified males were wearing bathing suits and sitting in the hot tub or sitting in lounge chairs fully dressed.
No pictures of the incident or the victim were found on Barnett’s phone, Houry testified. The victim’s clothing and backpack were never located. Authorities only found one of her sandals under the backseat of Shippee’s SUV, the detective said.
Brown and Melgoza told authorities they met the trio at the drugstore and hung out with them for about 15 minutes, but then left, Houry said. She said the two men said they went back to Brown’s house and then he drove Melgoza home a couple hours later. Brown said Melgoza was wearing two diamond earrings and a gold necklace with a cross; however, Melgoza denied Brown’s claim, Houry said.
The victim identified Melgoza as one of her alleged attackers by the earrings and necklace that she said he was wearing, Houry said. Though she believed his necklace had an Oakland Raiders emblem on it, Houry said.
No DNA evidence was found to link the trio to the victim, Houry testified.
Shippee’s attorney, Herb Weston, said the victim’s credibility was questionable because she had lied to Barnett about being kicked out of her house. Further, Weston said some of the victim’s online remarks to Barnett were promiscuous in nature.
Weston also said the victim told police, “I think I remember I took my pants off so we could have sex.”
Following the hearing, family and supporters of the defendants denied a request to comment on the case.