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Cop Guilty of Gunpoint Sex Attack, But Jury Deadlocked on Rape Charge

By DNAinfo Staff on March 27, 2012 3:19pm  | Updated on March 27, 2012 4:56pm

Michael Pena in court March 15.
Michael Pena in court March 15.
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DNAinfo/Theodore Parisienne

MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — Police officer Michael Pena was convicted of a brutal gunpoint sexual assault against a 25-year-old teacher last year and could face life in prison, a Manhattan jury decided Tuesday.

After three days of deliberations a jury of eight men and four women convicted the 28-year-old Pena of three counts of predatory sexual assault and three counts criminal sex act on Monday.

Predatory sexual assault carries a maximum of 25 years to life in prison.

The victim, surrounded by friends and supporters, bent over and sobbed hysterically throughout parts of the jury's verdict reading.

The jury remained deadlocked on two counts of rape in the first degree, which required proof of sexual penetration for a conviction. Jurors were asked to continue deliberating on those charges. They were instructed to return Wednesday.

Prosecutors said Pena spent the early morning hours of Aug. 19, 2012 drinking at a Washington Heights club where he tried to take home a bartender and searched Craigslist for potential sexual hookups.

After the club closed he wandered the streets of Upper Manhattan until he spotted the victim and had a "stalker moment" in which he followed the woman and forced her to go to a nearby alley at gunpoint, Assistant District Attorney Evan Krutoy told jurors.

Terrified and fearing for her life, she offered Pena her cell phone, jewelry and wallet, hoping he would take the items and leave her alone.

Instead he ushered her along and she screamed for help.

"Shut the f--- up or I'll shoot you," the victim testified Pena told her.

Several neighbors witnessed what was happening and one woman, who was awakened to the lurid scene unfolding outsider her window, dialed 911 for help.

"Hi, there appears to be sex going on that is not consensual in the backyard of the house," the neighbor, Ann Bishop, told a 911 dispatcher.

Pena's attorney, Ephraim Savitt, argued that the cop was overcharged by prosecutors when they sought an indictment of rape in the first degree.

Savitt argued there was insufficent proof that there was penetration as definded by statute for rape. 

There were six days of testimony before Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Richard Carruthers.

Inwood residents expressed some sense of relief.

"He's the one who's supposed to bring justice to people, but he committed the crime," said Michelle P., 34, a nurse who lives next door to where the incident took place. "He deserves to serve his time. Hopefully they get him for rape too."

She was still upset by the incident.

''It happened early in the morning," she said. "It was scary. It could've been me, anyone.''

Neil Orman, 41, a videographer, called it a "good thing" to convict a "bad seed" officer.

"Hopefully that discourages anyone else who would attack a woman," Orman said. ''It was very unsettling. Broad daylight on a nice street — you wouldn't expect that to happen.''

Maria Lizardo, deputy director of client services at the NMIC, an Upper Manhattan community based organization, said she and her staff have been watching this case carefully because of the impact it has had on the community.

When people in power "fall into a pattern of abuse and treat women as property, it is very scary," Lizardo said, "and causes [victims] not to go out and seek help if something happens. Women are afraid to go into the precinct for help."
She added: "As it is the culture of the police is not very victim-friendly. From the moment you enter the building, it’s like you have a big stop sign in front of you."
Lizardo's organization provides advocate services to ensure victims are assisted through the process of reporting a crime such as rape, she said. "It can be a very intimidating process."

With additional reporting by Trevor Kapp and Carla Zanoni.