PORT RICHEY — When 14-year-old Luis Reyes was charged last week with the brutal rape of an elderly woman, a man he considers a brother defended him.
Maybe Reyes got mixed up in a break-in, Johnathan Rodriguez told reporters, but the teen was not capable of sexual assault.
"He's not a bad person," Rodriguez told the Times on Friday. "He just makes bad choices."
But on Monday, Rodriguez, 20, was charged as the third person responsible for last Wednesday's pre-dawn attack on the 89-year-old woman.
Authorities say that Rodriguez, Reyes and 15-year-old Carlos Fernandez broke into the woman's home wearing masks, battered her in her own bed, then tried to smother her with a pillow. The woman heard one of the attackers ask, "Is she dead yet?"
The attack, which put the residents of Palm Terrace Gardens on edge, came a week after a different break-in at the woman's home. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office says Sean Maus, a 16-year-old who did chores for the woman, brought Reyes and Fernandez to the home so they could steal her Pontiac Sunfire for a joyride. Rodriguez was not charged in that April 2 break-in.
Reyes' mom, Aida Santiago, doesn't believe her boys are involved. Santiago, 44, brought her family to Port Richey from Massachusetts two years ago in search of a better life. Rodriguez, a family friend who grew up with Reyes, recently moved to Port Richey as well, Santiago said. He hoped to enroll in college and get a degree in culinary arts.
Reyes was a freshman at Ridgewood High School, where he played on the football team. Santiago said her son did well in school until he started hanging out with Fernandez. "When my son met this kid, things changed," she said. "When this kid shows up, he starts doing things like giving his brother attitude."
Now they are all behind bars.
Rodriguez and Reyes, both of 11230 Areca Drive in Port Richey, are charged with attempted murder and sexual battery. So is Fernandez, of 7151 Tudor Lane.
Reyes and Fernandez also face burglary and grand theft auto charges from the first break-in April 2. Maus was charged with the April 2 burglary and car theft. He has not been accused of participating in Wednesday's attack.
Maus told authorities that Reyes and Fernandez were involved in the attack on the elderly woman. They were arrested last Thursday.
Santiago visited Reyes in the jail over the weekend. She said he's upset at Maus for saying he was connected to the woman's attack.
"I wish I could tell her I didn't do anything,'" Santiago recalled her son saying.
Santiago said her son was arrested because of the people he surrounded himself with.
"He made bad choices and followed the wrong crowd," she said, "and that's why he is where he is now."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at (727) 992-5203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.