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Four 'gang members' charged in rape, robbery of teens in St. Paul

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Devontre Vann Courtesy of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office2 / 4
Vershone Hodges Courtesy of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office3 / 4
Deandray Easley Courtesy of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office4 / 4

ST. PAUL—After young men repeatedly raped two young women near a St. Paul park, they threw their victims' car keys into nearby bushes and told them they would be shot if they left the car to go for help, according to charges filed against four people Thursday.

The sexual assaults began with a robbery. The suspects used a gun to threaten the teens and two of their friends and, before stealing their cellphones, forced them to unlock the phones and turn off applications used to find stolen cells.

Three of the four young men charged are gang members, the Ramsey County attorney's office said.

"Despite the victims complying with their orders and handing over their valuables, the perpetrators in this case forced the female victims into a car and repeatedly raped them," said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. "These allegations are brutally horrific, and we will prosecute these defendants to the fullest extent of the law as we attempt to achieve justice for the victims, their families and our community."

Police initially said the robbery and rapes happened near Raspberry Island, but the criminal complaints indicated they were near a different park nearby, Harriet Island.

On Monday about 11:15 p.m., a 17-year-old girl and her 15-year-old boyfriend went to hang out with friends — a 16-year-old boy and an 18-year-old woman — on Harriet Island. They brought food from McDonald's and were eating it on the trunk of their car in a parking lot.

The 17-year-old saw a group of men coming toward them. The 16-year-old thought he knew them, so he and the 15-year-old walked toward them and the girls stayed behind. One briefly spoke to a teen he recognized from basketball and school, and then the two headed back to the car.

But the teen, identified as 16-year-old Choncey Milan Stewart, pulled a gun and said, "Do you know who the (expletive) you just talked to?" according to the criminal complaints. He told the 16-year-old to empty his pockets, and the others with him ran up to the group's car.

Another man, later identified as 18-year-old DeAndray Easley, was described "as an informal leader" of the attackers, the complaints said. The other suspects were identified as Vershone Jaquay Hodges, 20, and Devontre J. Vann, 19.

Easley ripped a purse from the 18-year-old woman's neck and the group forced the four friends to lie face-down on the ground while they ransacked their pockets and the car.

The suspects made the two boys strip down to their underwear and forced them again to lie in the grass. One tried putting a gun in the 15-year-old's mouth and, when the 16-year-old looked up, he was kicked in the face.

"The group was asked if they wanted to die," the complaint continued.

SEXUAL ASSAULTS

Stewart, the 16-year-old, forced the two young women at gunpoint into one of the victim's cars and raped the women, according to the complaint. Vann opened the car door and said, "(I)t's my turn" and also raped both women, the juvenile petition against Stewart said.

At one point, Stewart handed the gun to Easley, and Easley walked over to the boys and continued to force them to lie in the grass at gunpoint, the petition said.

After the suspects threw the victims' car keys in the bushes, they told the teens to wait until 1:28 a.m. on the car display before leaving to look for the keys. They said they had someone else in the bushes nearby and, if they left early, they would be shot.

The group waited until 1:30 a.m. and got out of the car to look for the keys. They could not find them and had no phones to call for help but were able to find someone on Raspberry Island to get help. Police said they were called about 2 a.m.

ROBBERY ARRESTS

At about 6:25 a.m. Tuesday, Stewart, Vann and Hodges were arrested after a man was robbed at gunpoint near Livingston and Logan avenues in West St. Paul. Easley ran from the area, the complaint said. He was arrested later in the day.

Stewart had the 18-year-old woman's phone with him when he was arrested, the complaint said. He would not talk to police.

Vann told a police sergeant he had been at a video shoot near Harriet Island with Easley, who is a rapper. He said he did not remember talking to two girls in the car.

The sergeant told Vann "about DNA evidence being used to determine if someone had sexual relations" and asked him again "if he wanted to talk about what happened with two girls," the complaint said.

Vann told the sergeant that a girl wanted to perform oral sex on him. When asked how it came about, he said he saw her performing it on someone else in the back seat and thought the girl in the front seat was doing the same to another man.

Hodges told an investigator that he had been at Harriet Island with Easley, Stewart and Vann, but he said he and Easley left the area because they knew the other two "were going to do something," the complaint said.

Easley, meanwhile, told the investigator that he was at his girlfriend's house in Burnsville from Monday at 9 p.m. to Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. He said he had not been at Harriet Island and denied involvement in the incident.

The Ramsey County attorney's office charged Stewart, of St. Paul; Easley, of Minneapolis; Hodges, of St. Paul; and Vann, of St. Paul, with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, four counts of first-degree aggravated robbery and two counts of kidnapping. Stewart is also charged in Dakota County in the robbery, and the county attorney's office is reviewing cases against the other three.

Stewart, Easley and Hodges are gang members, according to the Ramsey County attorney's office.

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