NEW YORK – The woman at the center of a rape case against two police officers said Tuesday she was devastated that they were convicted only of a misdemeanor for official misconduct, saying she had waited for a sense of conclusion she now will never have.
But "for me, public opinion will be the ultimate verdict," the woman said in her first public remarks since Thursday's verdict. Her comments came in a statement released by her lawyers; The Associated Press doesn't identify people who say they are victims of sex crimes unless they agree to be named.
Then-Officers Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata were acquitted of rape and most other charges against them. They were convicted of official misconduct for returning to the woman's apartment without telling dispatchers or superiors where they were. Their lawyers swiftly replied Tuesday to defend the jury's decision.
"It was the jury, and not the 'public,' that heard all of the testimony in this case, including that of the accuser, and rendered a verdict consistent with the evidence and the law. That verdict should be respected," said Moreno's lawyer, Joseph Tacopina.
The officers, who were fired within hours of the verdict, were called to help the woman get home after a drunken night out celebrating a job promotion in December 2008. Now 29, she is a fashion product developer in California.
"I am devastated and disappointed by the jury's decision," she said Tuesday. "My world was turned upside-down by the actions of two police officers who were sent there to protect but instead took advantage of their authority and broke the law."
She testified that she passed out and awoke to being raped. Moreno told jurors he kissed her on the forehead and cuddled with her in her bed, but they didn't have sex. Mata, accused of standing watch, said he was napping on her sofa.
The officers acknowledged that they went back to her apartment three times within four hours after the initial call without disclosing their whereabouts to dispatchers and superiors. Indeed, Moreno acknowledged making a bogus 911 call about a sleeping vagrant as an excuse to return to the woman's building. The officers said she had asked them to return to check on her, and Moreno said he was trying to counsel her about drinking.
No DNA evidence was collected in the case, and experts debated whether an internal mark found during an examination of the woman could be interpreted as a sign of rape.
After consulting prosecutors, she secretly recorded a conversation with Moreno a few days later. He alternately denied they had sex and seemed to acknowledge it, particularly by saying twice that he'd used a condom when she asked him. Moreno told jurors he was just trying to appease her.
The woman said her experience pointed to the difficulties of winning a rape conviction without DNA evidence, adding that it was disheartening to have intimate details of her life aired in a courtroom by defense lawyers' questions.
Mata's lawyer, Edward Mandery, noted that criminal defendants' right to confront and cross-examine witnesses is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
"The jurors in this case dedicated two months of their lives in order to fairly assess and evaluate the evidence," he added.
The woman, who has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the city over the incident, said she was gratified by the officers' firing, Manhattan prosecutors' efforts and expressions of outrage at the verdict from some observers. Some City Council members held a news conference Friday; separately, activists protested outside the courthouse.
Mata, 29, and Moreno, 43, face possible sentences from no jail time to a total of two years behind bars at their sentencing, set for June 28.
Jennifer Peltz can be reached at http://twitter.com/jennpeltz.
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