Defense damaged by blood

Blood at scene becomes pivotal for Strauss-Kahn defense

Evidence that Dominique Strauss- Kahn´s encounter with a hotel maid may have involved force, including reports of blood at the scene, might damage any defense contention that she consented, former prosecutors said.

Strauss-Kahn is accused in a seven-count indictment of forcibly trying to have intercourse with the woman at the Sofitel hotel in midtown Manhattan, and of making her have oral sex with him. Strauss-Kahn, who resigned as head of the International Monetary Fund after being charged with sexual assault and attempted rape, plans to plead not guilty, his lawyers have said.

Since Strauss-Kahn´s May 14 arrest, news organizations, such as the Associated Press and Fox News, have reported the discovery of physical evidence, including semen and a cut on the defendant´s back, that suggest contact between the accuser, a 32-year-old West African immigrant, and Strauss-Kahn, 62. Strauss-Kahn hasn´t confirmed or denied there was an encounter. His attorneys stopped just short of saying that, if there was one, it was consensual.

"If the DNA evidence is straightforward and there are no big surprises along the way here, plea negotiations would seem inevitable," Samuel Buell, a former federal prosecutor, said in a phone interview. "It may be a matter of some time before the defendant can be brought to understand the necessity of those discussions."

Crime scene unit

A New York Police Department crime scene unit gathered evidence from Strauss-Kahn´s hotel suite, Assistant District attorney John "Artie" McConnell told a judge last week. While the results of tests performed on material taken in the searches weren´t available as of the May 19 hearing, preliminary indications "support the victim´s version of events," the prosecutor said.

Strauss-Kahn´s body was examined and photographed after his May 14 arrest. Defense lawyers Benjamin Brafman and William Taylor said their client agreed to a government request for a physical examination.

News organizations including the Wall Street Journal have reported that a DNA sample from Strauss-Kahn matched semen found on the maid´s shirt. The Associated Press reported carpet samples taken from the room may contain semen traces and blood was found on the sheets. Fox News said Strauss-Kahn cut his back on a piece of furniture in the room during a struggle with the victim, who told him that she didn´t want to have sex with him. All the reports cited unidentified sources.

Reports of evidence

Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for the New York District Attorney´s office, declined to comment on the reports. Paul Browne, a spokesman for the police department, didn´t return calls seeking comment. Brafman, who declined to comment on the reports, told a judge last week that the evidence was in his client´s favor.

"The forensic evidence, we believe, are not consistent with forcible encounter," he said at Strauss-Kahn´s first appearance in Manhattan criminal court, stopping short of directly saying it was consensual. "This is a very, very defensible case."

If convicted, Strauss-Kahn faces as long as 25 years in prison. He has been free on $1m cash bail and under home detention and armed guard since May 20. His arraignment is scheduled for June 6. In arguing against bail, McConnell said the accuser´s actions and the results of a physical examination supported her account.

´Multiple witnesses´

"She made outcries to multiple witnesses immediately after the incident, both to hotel staff and law enforcement," McConnell said at the May 16 hearing. "She was then taken to the hospital and was given a full sexual assault forensic examination. The observations and findings during that exam corroborate her accounts,"

Any blood from a cut on Strauss-Kahn or the woman that was consistent with her resisting would subvert a defense that the sex had been consensual, said Paul Callan, a former New York prosecutor.

"Blood would be critical to prove physical force. If indeed there is an injury to his back, it corroborates a specific detail in her story," Callan said in a phone interview. "Corroboration is very important. In a case where it´s he-said, she-said, it gives the jury something to rely on."

Plea not likely

Still, a plea is unlikely, said Callan, who represented the estate of Nicole Brown Simpson in a civil lawsuit against O.J. Simpson. The former football player was found liable for his ex- wife´s wrongful death after being acquitted on charges of murdering her and Ron Goldman.

With a plea, Strauss-Kahn "would become a registered sex offender and it would stain him for the rest of his life," Callan said. "It´s going to be won or lost at trial."

Defense lawyers may try to claim the maid exchanged sex for money, Callan said.

"I don´t see the defense being able to make a compelling case" that the woman was "overcome by lust," Callan said. "The details of the defense are going to be supplied as the case goes along, and it´s not going to be pretty for the victim."

Callan said he was in the Manhattan District Attorney´s office the day the maid was reported to have testified before the grand jury.

"She had a hat on, large sunglasses and a silk scarf pulled across her face, which she put down as she walked past me," Callan said. "She was surrounded by police detectives."

Gained credibility

Prosecutors said that the woman´s story gained credibility because she immediately reported the alleged incident to fellow workers. She also picked Strauss-Kahn out of a police lineup within 24 hours of the alleged attack. McConnell said Strauss- Kahn could be seen on a hotel video making an "unusually hasty" exit after the attack allegedly occurred.

Defense lawyers said their client was in a hurry to have lunch with his daughter before heading to a scheduled Air France flight. Also, they said, he later called the hotel looking for a mobile phone he thought he had left in his room and told the security staff where to find him. Police used that information to arrest him minutes before his plane was due to take off.

"If you just committed crime at a hotel in New York, the last thing I would want to do is report to hotel security where I am," Brafman said at a bail hearing.

Brafman told French television´s TF1 on May 22 that, based on the evidence he had seen, his client would be acquitted at a fair trial.

Hard to convict

Linda Fairstein, a former Manhattan prosecutor who specialized in cases involving sexual attacks, said that while the evidence reported so far seems to favor the prosecution, a conviction will be difficult to obtain.

Strauss-Kahn, a former French finance minister and member of France´s opposition Socialist Party, had been among the most popular possible candidates to contest France´s 2012 presidential election, according to opinion polls.

"I think it´s a tough case -- because of the facts and circumstances and the power dynamic between the witness, who is probably an uneducated or less educated employee doing a menial job, and a powerful, well-respected brilliant politician," Fairstein said.

The New York Post, citing an unnamed French businesswoman, reported that friends of Strauss-Kahn offered money to the maid´s family in Guinea to make the case go away.

´Fully exonerated´

"Reports that Mr. Strauss-Kahn´s attorneys or representatives are in contact with the complaining witness or her family are false," Taylor and Brafman said today in a statement distributed by PR Newswire. "We continue to believe that Mr. Strauss-Kahn will be fully exonerated."

"There will be enormous pressure on her family in Africa, and undoubtedly her reputation will be vigorously attacked by supporters of Strauss-Kahn," Callan said. "The biggest thing the prosecutor has to do is keep her available for trial."

Without the victim, Fairstein said, "there is no case."

The case is People v. Strauss-Kahn, 1225782, Criminal Court of the City of New York (New York County).

(Published by Bloomberg - May 25, 2011)

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