Teen accepts deal in aiding escape

One of two juvenile hall inmates accused of aiding the escape of an alleged murderer accepted a plea deal Wednesday that ensures he will not spend more than two years behind bars for his role in the crime.

Vanher Cho, 18, of Burlingame, pleaded no contest to aiding a prisoner’s escape in exchange for prosecutors dropping gang charges against him. He will be sentenced May 7.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe described Cho as an unsophisticated criminal.

“Based on his sophistication level and involvement in this case, the gang allegations were appropriately dismissed,” Wagstaffe said. Cho could have faced seven years if convicted on all counts.

Prosecutors said Cho and co-defendent Martin Villa Patino, 18, helped Josue Orozco escape custody Feb. 14 by giving him a boost over a 15-foot wall. Orozco, who was awaiting his trial in May on suspicion of killing a rival gang member, then slipped through an outer perimeter fence into which someone had cut a 3-foot hole.

On Wednesday, Wagstafffe said that while Cho wasn’t the ringleader, prosecutors still believe he knew what he was doing.

“We think Mr. Orozco was a major player in organizing this and Mr. Patino was far more sophistocated than Mr. Cho and involved in the plan. But Mr. Cho wasn’t working ignorantly,” he said.

Patino and Orozco are both alleged Sureno gang members. While Orozco remains at large, the evidence against Patino will be laid out at a preliminary hearing on Wednesday. Wagstaffe called the case against him “very strong.”

Testifying against Patino was not a condition of Cho’s plea agreement. However, after Cho is sentenced next month, he will lose his Fifth Amendment rights and can be forced to testify.

Cho’s attorneys, Geritt Rutgers and Eric Hove, did not return calls by press time.

A report released last month by San Mateo County’s chief probation officer said a supervisor left Orozco, Cho and Patino unattended as they played basketball just before the escape. The supervisor was supposed to be monitoring the teens, but was instead in an office, according to the report.

tbarak@examiner.com

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