Prosecutors said they were outraged by what they considered lenient sentences for a heinous crime. Although the young men - who are in their early 20s and were convicted as adults - could spend as long as 15 years in a juvenile facility, two to four years is more likely, Laurino said.
"If they're found to be rehabilitated and they're no longer a danger to the community, they could be released at any time," he said. "We're very disappointed by the sentence."
Women's rights advocates were even more blunt.
"This judge gutted the jury verdict. I am shocked," said Christine McGoey, a coordinator of the Essex County chapter of the National Organization for Women. "You and I and everybody out there knows that if these young men were black, they would be in jail. This judge is saying there is a certain class of men who can rape.
"It's not a slap on the wrist, it's a pat on the head," she said. "I can't believe it. I am so stunned. I am so mortified. I feel there is no justice for women out there. What do I tell women now?"
Lawyers for the men said the sentences were too long, but they were pleased that the judge assigned them to juvenile facilities.
Before they were sentenced, two of the young men, who never spoke publicly during the five-month trial, apologized for their roles in luring the retarded woman, then 17, to the basement of a neighborhood house and penetrating her with a baseball bat and a broomstick.
"I would like to say I'm sorry," said Christopher Archer, 21, whom prosecutors described as the mastermind of the March 1, 1989, rape. "I realize I used poor judgment, but it was a mistake, and I ask you to let me learn from my mistake."
Archer said that although his lawyer had advised him not to speak, "I think I have remained silent too long."
Superior Court Judge R. Benjamin Cohen said that although Archer and twins Kevin and Kyle Scherzer, 22, were convicted as adults, he would sentence them as youthful offenders because they had the potential to be rehabilitated. Youthful offenders are adults younger than 26 who are not sentenced to specific jail terms.
"The defendants are very young, they are not hardened criminals," Cohen said. "They are not without redeeming value."
A fourth man, Bryant Grober, who was acquitted of rape but convicted of a lesser conspiracy crime, was sentenced to three years of probation and 200 hours of community service.
The four were convicted last month in a case that gained national attention, both for its strange nature and for the questions it begged concerning the rights and treatment of retarded people.
At its heart, the case asked whether a person who says yes to sex can really mean no. The answer, according to the jury, was yes.
On the eighth day of emotional and tense deliberations, the jury agreed with prosecutors that the retarded woman did not understand her right to say no, and that at least some of the defendants knew that - or should have. The jury rejected defense arguments that the woman, now 21, initiated the sex acts and enjoyed them, and that her mother was partially to blame.
The men have been free on bail since the March 16 convictions. Yesterday, Cohen denied prosecutors' requests to increase bail from $25,000 to $500,000 apiece for the three who face detention. Prosecutors went directly to an appellate court, which ordered them to file paperwork.
In court, Grober apologized to the victim's family and to his parents.
"I can't express the sorrow I feel," he said, his voice trembling. "I made a mistake."
Kevin Scherzer also apologized to the victim's family, though none of her relatives was in court.
"I'm sorry for what happened on March 1," he said. "I used bad moral judgment. I was very young at the time."
Prosecutors had argued for stiff prison terms for Archer and the Scherzers, in part to deter other potential rapists. They could have gone to prison for as long as 20 years.
"Sexual violence is a problem nationwide," said Laurino, head of the Essex County prosecutor's sex-crimes unit. "It has to be shown that this behavior is barbaric and that it must end."
Since the start of this case, prosecutors have received calls about similar incidents in several other states, he said.
Laurino also argued that, though these defendants had never been convicted of other crimes, they had committed them. He alleged in court that in 1990, while a student at Boston College, Archer had raped a fellow student who never pressed charges. He said that Kevin Scherzer was picked up for drunken driving while the jury was deliberating his fate, and that the twins had been picked up by police on minor charges involving property damaged during parties.
"Even though some of the offenses may be viewed as being somewhat minor, they didn't learn a lesson from that," Laurino said.
Further, he said, the young men "picked the most vulnerable person they could find," a woman who operates on the level of an 8-year-old. He said the victim still has bad dreams.
"She still sees a counselor," he said, "and she still blames herself."