WYSO

He Said, She Said: Now It's Just The Lawyers Talking

Jul 2, 2011
Originally published on July 2, 2011 4:45 pm

The troubles that hit the sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn this week may find a place in history books. As presiding Judge Michael Obus put it mildly in court Friday, "I understand that the circumstances surrounding this case, from the viewpoint of the parties, have changed substantially."

With full agreement from prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney's office, a man who spent weeks under house arrest walked out of the courthouse Friday with a smile, his arm slung around the shoulders of his wife.

Six weeks ago, a grand jury in New York indicted Strauss-Kahn for allegedly sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper. The former chief of the IMF lost his job, spent several nights in a jail cell, and got released only after he agreed to pay for guards to watch his every move. Authorities described an air-tight case against a high-voltage defendant.

All of that changed after prosecutors went public with doubts about the victim's credibility.

That didn't sit well with Ken Thompson, a lawyer for the hotel housekeeper, who says she was the victim of a brutal attack.

"They agreed to let Dominique Strauss-Kahn freely roam the streets of New York City — or any other city in the United States — knowing full well that the victim, to this very day, maintains that he sexually assaulted her in that room," he said.

Thompson detailed the housekeeper's injuries: bruising, a torn ligament in her shoulder and ripped pantyhose.

Then, he said, there's the forensic evidence. Police found DNA from Strauss-Kahn on her clothes and on the walls and carpet of the hotel room.

William Taylor, a lawyer for Strauss-Kahn, said the encounter was consensual, and all the hype about the strength of the prosecution's case looks very different now.

"People have to be mindful of that fact that in a heartbeat you can be locked up in Rikers Island and charged with a crime and everybody rushes to judgment," Taylor said. The case that cost Strauss-Kahn his job and his political ambitions back home in France is now on the ropes.

"I will say that he's not going to plead guilty to anything," Taylor said. Not even a misdemeanor. That pretty much closes the door on a possible plea deal.

District Attorney Cy Vance said prosecutors will continue to investigate, but now the victim's background is under a microscope as much as the defendant's.

"Our judicial system seeks to ensure fairness and justice for both victims and defendants," Vance said. "As prosecutors, our duty is to do what is right in every case, without fear or favor, wherever that leads."

"We believe that the district attorney is laying the foundation to dismiss this case," Thompson countered. "Anyone can see that." He said Vance is pulling his punches for a wealthy and famous suspect and failing to protect victims of rape.

"We believe he's afraid that he's going to lose this high-profile case, like he lost recently the high-profile case brought against two police officers," Thompson said. That case involved two police officers charged with raping a woman they picked up while she was drunk. A jury in New York refused to convict the officers.

Vance's prosecutors are said to believe the Strauss-Kahn case could follow the same path, given disclosures that the housekeeper lied on immigration paperwork, lied on tax forms and lied about her income on a housing application.

Thompson said the housekeeper came clean with most of those admissions herself. "It is a fact that the victim here made some mistakes, but that doesn't mean she's not a rape victim." Thompson said he wants to be sure the housekeeper doesn't become the next victim of a rush to judgment.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

Authorities in New York described an airtight case against a high-profile defendant, but all that changed yesterday after prosecutors went public with doubts about the maid's credibility. NPR's Carrie Johnson has our story.

CARRIE JOHNSON: The troubles that hit the sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn this week may find a place in history books. Here is presiding Judge Michael Obus in court Friday, putting it mildly.

HON: I understand that the circumstances surrounding this case, from the viewpoint of the parties, have changed substantially, and I agree.

JOHNSON: With full agreement from prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney's office, a man who spent weeks under house arrest walked out of the courthouse Friday with a smile, his arm slung around the shoulders of his wife. That didn't sit well with Ken Thompson, a lawyer for the hotel housekeeper who says she was the victim of a brutal attack.

KEN THOMPSON: They agreed to Dominique Strauss-Kahn freely roam the streets of New York City, or any other city in the United States, knowing full well that the victim, to this very day, maintains that he sexually assaulted her in that room.

JOHNSON: Thomas detailed the housekeeper's injuries - bruising, a torn ligament in her shoulder and ripped pantyhose. Then he says there's the forensic evidence. Police found DNA from Strauss-Kahn on her clothes, and on the walls and carpet of the hotel room. But William Taylor, a lawyer for Strauss-Kahn, said the encounter was consensual, and that all the hype about the strength of the prosecution's case looks very different now.

WILLIAM TAYLOR: People have to be mindful of the fact that in a heartbeat you can be locked up in Rikers Island and charged with a crime, and everybody rushes to judgment.

JOHNSON: The case that cost Strauss-Kahn his job and his political ambitions back home in France is now on the ropes, Taylor says.

TAYLOR: I will say that he's not going to plead guilty to anything.

JOHNSON: Including a misdemeanor?

TAYLOR: Yes.

JOHNSON: That pretty much closes the door on a possible plea deal. District attorney Cy Vance says prosecutors will continue to investigate, but now the victim's background is under a microscope as much as the defendant's.

CY VANCE: Our judicial systems seeks to insure fairness and justice for both victims and defendants. As prosecutors, our duty is to do what is right in every case without fear or favor, wherever that leads.

THOMPSON: We believe that the District Attorney is laying the foundation to dismiss this case. Anyone can see that.

JOHNSON: That's Thompson, the lawyer for the housekeeper. He says Vance is pulling his punches for a wealthy and famous suspect, and failing to protect victims of rape.

THOMPSON: We believe that he's afraid that he's going to lose this high-profile case, like he lost recently the high-profile case brought against the two police officers.

JOHNSON: Two police officers charged with raping a woman they picked up while she was drunk. A jury in New York refused to convict those policemen this year. Vance's prosecutors are said to believe the Strauss-Kahn case could follow the same path given disclosures that the housekeeper lied on immigration paperwork, lied on tax forms and lied about her income on a housing application. Thompson says the housekeeper came clean with most of those admissions herself.

THOMPSON: Now, it is a fact that the victim here made some mistakes, but that doesn't mean she's not a rape victim.

JOHNSON: Thompson says he wants to be sure the housekeeper doesn't become the next victim of a rush to judgment. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.