NEW YORK – Prosecutors on Tuesday dropped charges against three people accused of taking part in anti-gay attacks on two men and two teens, citing a lack of evidence.
Bryan Almonte and Brian Cepeda, both 17, and Steven Carabello, 16, had been charged with robbery, gang assault and unlawful imprisonment as hate crimes in the Oct. 3 attacks.
Eight other people remain accused in the case, which city officials called the worst anti-gay attacks in recent history. It's possible more people will be arrested because investigators are still working.
Family members and friends cheered outside court after the charges were dismissed, and the three boys' attorneys said they were pleased with the outcome. Almonte's attorney John O'Connell said his client thought he was at a party in the abandoned home where prosecutors say three of the victims were assaulted.
"He's a victim here," O'Connell said.
Almonte's girlfriend, 14-year-old Paola Suarez, said she was "so happy because my baby is getting out."
Attorney Paul Horowitz, who represented Carabello, said he imagined his client "will try to get his life back together."
Authorities said a loosely organized street crew known as the Latin King Goonies found out one of their recruits was gay — and when they found out, they snapped, setting off a weekend rampage. The recruit, a 17-year-old boy, was beaten and sodomized at the abandoned apartment, which they used as a hangout. The gang members then went after a 30-year-old man known throughout the Bronx neighborhood as The Queen, who they believed had had a sexual encounter with the teen, prosecutors said.
The man was burned, beaten, tortured and sodomized with a miniature baseball bat, police said.
Almonte had been accused of taking part in that assault.
The 30-year-old was attacked at the apartment hours after the initial assault. While he was attacked, gang members took his house keys, went to his home and robbed him of a TV and cash after beating his roommate and 40-year-old brother, authorities said.
The men also attacked a second teen they suspected was gay, prosecutors said.
Cepeda and Carabello were accused in that attack, along with Almonte.
The remaining suspects face charges including sexual abuse, unlawful imprisonment and assault as hate crimes. Their attorneys and families insist they are innocent and are not members of a gang. They say that the suspects have not been allowed to tell their sides of the story and that the 30-year-old man was paying boys for sex. The age of consent in New York is 16.
Cepeda's attorney Philippe Dussek said it took a while for prosecutors to sift through the accusations and determine the three 17-year-old suspects weren't involved.
"They did the right thing," he said.
Cepeda got into a car and left without speaking to reporters.
Also Tuesday, the most recently arrested suspect in the case was indicted by a grand jury on a charge of gang assault and robbery. He was being held on $250,000 bail and will be arraigned Nov. 23.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in prepared remarks before an Oct. 4 dinner for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, called the attacks "completely unacceptable" and promised "the perpetrators of the abuse and torture in the Bronx will be spared no mercy."
Bloomberg said he was sickened by the accusations of violence "and saddened by the anti-gay bias."
The beatings followed a nationwide string of anti-gay attacks and teen suicides attributed to anti-gay bullying, including the beating of 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, and the suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi after his gay sexual encounter in his dorm room was broadcast online.
(This version CORRECTS spelling of defense attorney's name to Dussek, not Dussec.)