MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — The lawyer for a New York City Police officer on trial for raping a 25-year-old Bronx school teacher at gunpoint in Inwood last summer told jurors Thursday that the accusations against his client Michael Pena were "disturbing, horrifying, and to a large degree, accurate."
Jurors leaned forward and grimaced as defense attorney Ephraim Savitt admitted Pena, charged with rape, committing a criminal sexual act and predatory sexual assault, did almost everything prosecutors alleged.
"He showed her that he had a firearm, he did take her down the street to a narrow alleyway, and he did, in fact, assault her," Savitt said in his opening statement. "What the people [prosecutors] will not be able to prove is that my client committed the crimes with which he is charged."
The prosecution contends Pena terrorized the victim at gunpoint for more than 15 minutes, spiriting her down a narrow alley and into an isolated courtyard behind Park Terrace West, where he forced her to perform oral sex before raping and sodomizing her.
"He had his gun in one hand and with the other he's fumbling with his zipper," Assistant District Attorney Evan Krutoy told the jury of seven men and five women. "He keeps telling her, don't look at my face."
The case will hinge on exactly what the inebriated officer did next. All 10 of the charges Pena faces require the prosecution to prove he actually committed the act he intended when he unzipped his pants—something Savitt contends never happened.
"Did he try to do that? Apparently he did," Savitt said. "Did he succeed in doing that? You will learn that the evidence in this case will not satisfy you beyond a reasonable doubt.
Krutoy argued that Pena had been on the prowl for hours by the time he met his victim. He'd spent the early morning before the attack carousing at an Inwood strip club, sending a flirtatious text message to a woman he had met there while on duty the night before. When that advance went unanswered, he began aggressively hitting on the strip club's waitress who also refused him, Krutoy said.
By 4 a.m., he was using his smartphone to search escort services on Craigslist. Those efforts, too, were fruitless.
It was just after 6:15 a.m. that he allegedly approached the victim, who had been hired the night before to teach at a Bronx charter school, and was waiting outside the home of her new principal, who had offered her a ride to work. The pair were exchanging text messages when Pena allegedly approached, asking for directions to the 1 train.
He then asked the victim to accompany him, and flashed his gun when she refused, Krutoy said.
"Hey, I’m calling u – I don’t see u," the principal texted as Pena was leading the terrified woman into the alley where the alleged attack took place, the prosecution charged. Holding his police-issued Glock 9mm to her head, Pena took her glasses and told her he would "blow her brains out" if she looked at him or cried out for help, Krutoy said.
"I'm so sorry but if I don't hear back from you I'm going to have to go," the principal texted at about the same time Pena grabbed the victim's Blackberry and hurled it onto the roof of a nearby garage, Krutoy said.
Savitt told jurors that though his client's acts were indisputably "criminal" and "unforgivable," but the prosecution would not be able to prove penetration.
He said Pena's semen was found in the victim's underwear, but that little DNA was recovered from other parts of her body.