By Shayna Jacobs, Andrea Swalec and Nicole Bode
MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — After more than two months of grueling and often graphic testimony, a jury acquitted two police officers accused of raping a drunk woman in her East Village apartment.
Kenneth Moreno, 43, and Franklin Mata, 29, were found not guilty Thursday on charges of rape, burglary, falsifying records, and criminal facilitation. The verdict elicited tears from Moreno and a stunned relief from Mata.
"I believe she made the whole thing up," said Moreno, who had been accused of raping the 29-year-old drunk woman inside her East Village apartment after being called to the scene to help her home from a cab, told reporters after the verdict.
"Obviously if I could go back, I would have done it differently. From the purest of my heart, my intention was just to help her."
Moreno testified during the trial that the woman tried to seduce him, stripping down to her bra, and trying to kiss him despite smelling of vomit.
He told jurors how his heart went out to her because he was a former alcoholic driven to drink by the Sept. 11 attacks and a bitter custody battle over his children. He described how he serenaded the woman with Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer" and warned her to watch out for other men who might not be so protective of her in a drunken state.
He also admitted lying to a 911 operator about a bogus emergency so he could buy himself some extra time with the woman, and how he snuck back to her apartment during a meal break to check up on her.
"Every day we deal with strangers and they can put our lives in jeopardy," Moreno said Thursday, adding that the experience of being charged and put on trial was "as close to death as I've ever come to. I just want to go home and be with my children."
Moreno's lawyer Joseph Tacopina praised the jury on Thursday, saying, "Those 12 people up there had more courage, to come out loud, and proud, to say not guilty in a very public manner."
Mata, who was accused of being the lookout for his partner, told the crowd assembled outside Manhattan Supreme Court, "I've been innocent from the beginning, I'm glad everybody sees that now."
"I'm happy this is over, I'm happy to get on with my life. This has been a long 2 1/2 years … I'm ready to go home," Mata added.
But the jury voted to convict both officers on three counts of official misconduct, for failing to call an ambulance for the obviously impaired woman and for entering the woman's apartment three times without permission.
The cops plan to appeal the official misconduct convictions.
Juror Rita Moore, reached at her Harlem home, declined to discuss how the jury reached the verdict.
"They said you could talk if you wanted to but I don't want to talk about it," Moore said.
The official misconduct charge is a misdemeanor that carries up to two years in jail and will automatically cost both officers their jobs.
The officers had been on suspended duty pending the outcome of the trial.
"The guilty verdicts reached today involved violations of the officers' oaths of office and as a result warrant immediate termination from the Police Department, and we will pursue that today," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said in a statement Thursday.
The verdict came on the seventh day of deliberation around 11 a.m. Thursday, during the second month of trial proceedings.
Moreno was seen wiping tears away with his head down as the verdict was read, while Mata kept his eyes straight ahead during the verdict.
Moreno maintained from the beginning of the trial that no sex took place, saying he merely "snuggled" with the woman who he claimed made a near-nude advance on him and asked him to stay the night.
He drew cringes from people, including his own lawyer, with comments on the stand including how he never told anyone about what happened inside the bedroom — including his own partner — because he doesn't "kiss and tell."
Mata testified he had fallen asleep on the couch and didn't have any idea what happened in the woman's bedroom on Dec. 7, 2008..
The accuser, a now-29-year-old clothing company executive who prosecutors described as "strikingly pretty," took the witness stand weeks ago and gave tearful testimony about waking up to Moreno raping her as she lay in her bed barely conscious and very intoxicated.
District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. released a statement praising the "bravery of the victim in coming forward, and in persevering through an often grueling and very public 9-week trial," in which the details of the night in question were hashed out in graphic detail and the accuser's name was dragged through the mud.
The woman's drinking habits, her sexual habits, and her behavior while intoxicated were laid bare on the stand, and defense lawyers took shots at her motivations for coming forward, accusing her of promiscuity and fishing for a payday with her $57 million civil lawsuit against the officers.
Vance said his office would "respect the jury’s verdict," adding that the misdemeanor conviction "acknowledges that the defendants' actions that night not only violated the law, they violated the victim’s rights, and the public’s trust."
The prosecutors' case was hampered by the fact that there was no DNA evidence to back the woman's claim, which prosecutors said was because the officer wore a condom.
She was also unable to recall large portions of the night as a result of alcohol-induced blackouts. She said she remembers Moreno telling her to drink water while she was "hugging the toilet" and then remembers waking up to Moreno, a veteran East Village beat cop, pulling off her stockings and having sex with her as she lay helpless.
Surviellence video shows the officers making a total of four trips to her apartment during the early morning hours of the day of the assault. That same day she and her friends went to Beth Israel Hospital where she was examined for injuries.
None of Moreno's DNA was found, and she had a small bruise on her cervix that experts said could have been caused by sex or various other things.
Mata and Moreno are expected to be sentenced on the misconduct charges on June 28.
Murray Weiss and Ben Fractenberg contributed reporting.