July 1 (Reuters) - Investigators had to make a snap judgment about
the accuser in the sexual assault case against Dominique
Strauss-Kahn -- haste that may have contributed to the unraveling of
was on board a Paris-bound jet that was about to take off when he was
he (District Attorney Cyrus Vance) arrest immediately or does or
conduct an in-depth investigation before a decision to arrest is
made?" said Paul Callan, a former assistant district attorney in
Brooklyn who represented the estate of Nicole Brown Simpson in a
civil case against O.J. Simpson.
sex-assault cases hinge on the competing versions of what happened
between the accused and the victim, and prosecution becomes
particularly troublesome -- as it has for the Manhattan District
Attorney's Office -- if the accuser turns out to have a history of
case, credibility came into play quickly, on the day the alleged
crime occurred, May 14. With Strauss-Kahn about to leave the country,
investigators had to balance the accuser's story against his looming
to believe the housekeeper, and for days, police and prosecutors kept
trumpeting the credibility of the accuser, saying her story remained
convincing and consistent. Some time over the ensuing weeks, her
credibility fell apart.
close to the case said that the district attorney's office took the
case to a grand jury without fully checking out the woman was bona
about everything that was reported on this woman early on was untrue
but no one checked or wanted to believe anything else," the
source told Reuters on Thursday night.
against Strauss-Kahn now appears seriously imperiled after
prosecutors acknowledged in a letter to Strauss-Kahn's defense
attorneys on Thursday that the accuser had lied and made inconsistent
and contradictory statements to prosecutors, immigration officials,
and a grand jury investigating her allegations.
provides a stark reminder that most sex-crime prosecutions come down
to a "he said, she said" scenario in which the accuser's
credibility is key to a successful prosecution.
they are untruthful or lied once, their whole testimony is in
question," said Charles Ferzola, a former assistant district
attorney in Nassau County, New York, who is a criminal defense
accuser does have a history of lying, according to prosecutors.
Supreme Court Judge Michael Obus on Friday released Strauss-Kahn from
house arrest and returned $6 million in bail to him. Following the
hearing, Vance acknowledged his office's "investigation raised
concerns about the complaining witness's credibility," but said
that the prosecution would continue.
laws generally prevent defense attorneys from cross-examining victims
about their past sexual behavior. The purpose is to keep the accuser
from being re-victimized by defense attorneys who want to shift
jurors don't want to see the victim portrayed like she "asked
for it," they do want guidance, and information about
credibility provides that guidance, said Rodney Uphoff, professor of
criminal law at the University of Missouri School of Law.
jurors are sitting there, and they see two people who have relayed an
incident differently, and they see no other way to figure out what
happened, they are looking for some help," Uphoff said.
One of the
accuser's inconsistencies detailed in the letter concerned statements
that she had been gang-raped back in her native Guinea. She later
admitted lying about it to help win U.S. asylum, but said she had
been raped in another incident, the letter stated.
judge would allow evidence of the false gang-rape claim in a trial is
unclear, Uphoff said, but it was appropriate for prosecutors to tell
In cases of
this magnitude, Ferzola said, the prosecutors were better off
enduring the embarrassment of coming forward with information about
the accuser's credibility now than having it surface on
cross-examination by Benjamin Brafman, Strauss-Kahn's experienced and
hard-hitting defense attorney.
district attorney's office does not want to look silly when she takes
the stand and gets ripped apart," he said. "They know
also noted that the district attorney's job is to help determine the
truth, even if it undermines the prosecution's case.
by Leigh Jones; Additional Reporting by Noeleen Walder; Editing by
Daniel Trotta and Sandra Maler)