Was justice done in the infamous case of French powerhouse Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the African-immigrant hotel maid?
It’s hard for a neutral outsider to be sure.
Manhattan prosecutors said there was ample evidence of a “hurried sexual encounter” between the two but no evidence of forcible compulsion, apart from the maid’s own word, which turned out to be less and less reliable as interviews progressed.
Key-card and telephone records showed that the maid was in Strauss-Kahn’s suite for seven to nine minutes. DNA testing of her clothing and hotel carpet showed Strauss-Kahn’s semen and her saliva where it ought to have been, according to her story.
If it was not a forcible encounter, what are we supposed to believe? That the maid took one look at a troll-like hunk of 62-year-old Euro-flesh, dropped her feather duster and swooned into his arms?
Or that he paid her like a prostitute?
I’m sorry, but if I had to bet, I’d bet that he’s guilty. I’d bet that he grabbed her and forced her, pretty much as she claimed.
But, of course, betting on a reasonable hunch is one thing, and convincing a jury beyond a reasonable doubt is something else.
I asked Schenectady County District Attorney Bob Carney for his take on the dismissal of charges, and he said, “I suspect I would have made the same decision.”
How about just presenting the facts and letting a jury decide, as some critics have suggested? “You have to sincerely believe the defendant is guilty,” he said. “If you just punt the decision to a jury, you’re not fulfilling your obligation to seek justice.”
Indeed, the American Bar Association advises that a prosecutor’s duty is to “seek justice, not simply win cases.”
The problem, really, was not so much with the hard facts as with all the soft facts, the ancillary facts. If all you had was a hotel maid making a “prompt outcry” of sexual assault, as this one did, and physical evidence being produced that was consistent with her claim, I expect the case would have gone forward.
But as all the world knows by now, the maid kept changing her story about what she did immediately after the alleged assault. She fled into the hallway and found a supervisor. No, she went to another room and cleaned it, then returned to the room where she had allegedly been assaulted and finished cleaning that, too.
No, she never said any such thing. And so on.
I don’t see that it really matters which account is true, as far as her original claim goes, but it makes you wonder.
Then, of course, she lied about an earlier sexual assault that never happened — a supposed gang rape by soldiers in her native country, which, according to the district attorney’s office, she related to them with “great emotion and conviction,” providing “precise and powerful details,” before finally admitting it was bogus.
How do you put a witness like that on the stand and expect a jury to believe her this time around? Can you imagine what a competent defense attorney would do with such a witness on cross-examination?
I don’t give much importance to her having received bank deposits from a marijuana-dealing boyfriend. To me, that has nothing to do with her having been sexually assaulted or not sexually assaulted. And likewise with her having concealed her hotel earnings in order to qualify for low-income housing. And likewise with her having lied on her immigration application, which must be common.
But after a while these things do begin to have a cumulative effect, and the prosecutors concluded that at trial such effect “would be devastating,” as they told the court.
That may not be fair, but I’m sure they’re right. It would require a somnolent defense attorney indeed not to take full advantage of all those lies, fudgings and misstatements, some of them executed under oath, and not portray Nafissatou Diallo as a pathological liar whose word cannot be trusted on anything. And never mind the semen stains on her dress, the skin DNA from Strauss-Kahn on her pantyhose, and the sheer implausibility of a voluntary quickie between her and the head of the International Monetary Fund.
So does Strauss-Kahn get off free and clear?
Not if you count his loss of employment as head of the IMF, and not if you count the likely loss of his prospects to be president of France, and not if you count the stirring up of old allegations of similar sexual predation in his home country.
And not if you count the dollar cost to him and his loyal heiress wife, either.
Remember, when he got out on bail, he had to pay for his own security detail to keep him from running away, and the reported cost of that was $243,000 a month. At first, he was going to stay in a $4,400-a-month apartment that his wife rented for the purpose, but the other occupants of the building wouldn’t have him, so he repaired to a Tribeca townhouse that reportedly rented for $50,000 a month. Some townhouse!
And that’s not to mention the cost of two high-powered defense lawyers, first to defend him against the criminal charges and then, still to come, the civil suit filed by Ms. Diallo, which could conceivably lead to a hefty judgment against him, the standard of proof being lower in a civil suit than in a criminal trial.
And that is not yet mentioning the intangible price of disgrace. Put it all together, and you have to say the adventure has cost him something.
As for our justice system, I guess you can say it worked, more or less.