MANHATTAN — The homeless registered sex offender accused of raping a woman twice in Hudson River Park near Harrison Street last September pleaded guilty Monday to sexually assaulting the 21-year-old, reversing his initial plea of not guilty.
Jonathan Stewart, 26, admitted to raping the woman after striking up a conversation with her as she sat on a park bench near West and Harrison streets about 5:15 a.m. on Sept. 22, prosecutors said.
Stewart pleaded guilty Monday to first-degree rape and criminal sexual act in the first degree.
Prosecutors said Stewart, a convicted felon, put a chokehold on the woman and dragged her to a nearby area before raping her.
The young woman was then able to break free, but, prosecutors said, Stewart chased down his victim, punched and throttled her, then raped her again.
The woman managed to flee again, and, while running from her attacker, flagged down Hudson River Park officers.
Officers captured Stewart soon after the assault on the median of the West Side Highway at North Moore Street, a block away from where police said the attack occurred.
Stewart, who had been taken to Bellevue after threatening to kill himself, initially pleaded not guilty after telling officers that he didn't know why he was arrested, in part because he drank several cans of Four Loko — a caffeinated alcoholic drink that was banned from sale in New York, according to court documents.
Prosecutors said Stewart is a "violent predicate felon" who was convicted of first degree robbery and first degree sexual abuse in 2004. He was also a registered Level III sex offender — the highest-risk category — as a result of his 2004 conviction.
He was released in July 2012 following a stint in jail in 2011 for a parole violation.
On Sept. 30, Stewart is scheduled to be sentenced to 35 years in prison followed by 20 years of parole.
“New Yorkers should be able to feel safe inside our parks,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a statement. “This defendant brutally raped a young woman who was trying to enjoy a sunrise in one of our city’s public spaces. I commend the victim for her courage, and hope that this guilty plea brings her some closure.”