The NYPD officer accused of acting as a lookout while his partner raped a drunk woman in her East Village apartment in 2008 took the stand today. Under questioning from defense attorneys, Officer Franklin Mata—who is not accused of raping the unidentified woman but faces the same sexual assault rap for allegedly cooperating—the defense strategy became increasingly clear: persuade the jury that the accuser was not so drunk she couldn't have said no, and imply that she may have even led on Officer Kenneth Moreno—though they still maintain nothing happened.
Mata testified that the woman was able to walk up the stairs to her apartment without assistance, but they returned to the woman's apartment multiple times at her request to check on her. According to Mata, she let herself in but accidentally left the keys in the lock. When they went inside again to give them to her, they found her in the bathroom. He says they asked her if she wanted an ambulance, and then Moreno helped her get one of her boots off before they left with her keys.
They returned three more times, and Mata testified that "their conversations seemed very friendly—a little flirty at times. It was very personal, yes. Ken was telling her about his past drinking problem." When they returned for the last time, she was still in the bathroom, and there was vomit on her clothes and the floor. Mata says Moreno helped her up with his arm around her rib cage and made her drink water. Then, wouldn't you know, Mata says he fell asleep on the couch. "I turned on the TV and I ended up dozing off," Mata testified. The next thing he remembers is Moreno tapping him on the shoulder, saying, "Come on, we're leaving."
"Did you see Kenneth Moreno commit any crimes that night?" Mata's lawyer, Edward Mandery, asked, the Daily News reports. "No I did not," Mata replied. During cross-examination, assistant district attorney Coleen Balbour pressed Mata on why the cops returned so many times instead of calling an ambulance. "Are you a part of the department of social services, that goes in people's apartments and checks up on people?" Balfour rhetorically asked. Pressed on whether the accuser was actually vomiting or just "trying" to vomit when they first saw her in her bathroom, Mata became exasperated, the Post reports. "I don't know what came out of her or didn't come out," he testified. "I later learned she did vomit at one point."
During testimony yesterday, defense witness Dr. Mitchell Essig testified on the damage to the woman's cervix, telling the jury the injury was "tiny, almost microscopic." He maintained that the forensic exam could have caused the bruising, eliciting "howls of protests from prosecutors," according to the News. Prosecutors asked Essig if he was aware that less than 50% of rape victims have physical injuries; then the defense asked if he knew that fewer than 5% have no injury and no semen or DNA recovered. (DNA from semen in the accuser's bedding did not match either officer.)
But the prosecutors may have won this round by discrediting Essig; in an odd twist, it turns out that Essig was involved in the 1986 illegal adoption of a newborn boy by Joel Steinberg. Steinberg, you may recall, was later convicted of killing his adopted 6-year-old daughter Lisa. Prosecutors forced Essig to admit that he assisted Steinberg in the illegal adoption, and Balbour asked him, "You didn't think you did anything wrong by taking a baby from a grandmother and putting it in the back seat of your vehicle?"
Update (9/9/11): Gothamist has published a long-form feature about the Rape Cop case, written by one of the jurors. It takes you behind the scenes during their deliberations, and explains how they came to their controversial verdict. Buy it today as a PDF or on Kindle.