Lawyers: NYC gay hate crime suspects are innocent

A suspected gang member accused of participating in what's being called the city's worst case of anti-gay violence in recent memory is not a monster and should be given a chance to tell his side of the story, his lawyer said Thursday.

Ten men appeared one by one before a judge in the Bronx as prosecutors said they were ready to present evidence to indict them on various charges including assault, sexual abuse and harassment, all as hate crimes.

Meanwhile, police said an 11th suspect was arrested at his home in the Bronx on Thursday night. The 26-year-old man is accused of twice punching one of the victims with a chain wrapped around his fist. He is expected to be arraigned Friday on charges including assault as a hate crime.

Authorities say the Oct. 3 attacks at a Bronx home were touched off because gang members thought one of their recruits was gay. A 17-year-old was beaten and sodomized with a plunger handle, police say. Another 17-year-old also thought to be gay was attacked, and a 30-year-old and his brother were beaten as well.

Lawyers for the 10 men said their clients are innocent.

"Please stop running to judgment," said Sanders Dennis, attorney for alleged ringleader Idelfonzo Mendez, as he addressed reporters outside the courtroom. "Stop making him a monster. Let the system play it out."

Defendant Ruddy Vargas-Perez is "absolutely distraught," said his lawyer, Benjamin Heinrich. "Ruddy is as appalled as everyone else."

Vargas-Perez, who is out on bail, left the courtroom surrounded by family and friends. His lawyer prevented him from talking to reporters.

"Ruddy is a working man" with a job in construction, Heinrich said. "He pays his taxes."

The judge granted protective custody to defendant Bryan Almonte, 16, because of his age and because he has diabetes and epilepsy.

As he was led into the courtroom, hands cuffed behind him, one of his supporters began weeping loudly. She was in tears throughout his appearance.

As he was taken away, Almonte said to the woman, "I love you."

"I love you too, baby," she replied.

Members of the gang, which calls itself the Latin King Goonies, targeted a 30-year-old gay man after he apparently had a sexual encounter with one of their recruits, authorities said.

The 17-year-old was beaten and sodomized until he confessed to his involvement with the older man, authorities said. The mob later went after the 30-year-old, luring him to an abandoned apartment they used for partying, where they tied him to a chair and assaulted him, police said.

Another 17-year-old was also attacked because it was believed he, too, had an encounter with the man. The older man's brother was also attacked after gang members went to their shared apartment and stole cash and a TV, police said.

The defendants are due back in court late next week.