The victim of a violent, daylight rape in downtown Schenectady stood in the shadows waiting for a police lineup to proceed, detectives on either side of her.
Six men were there, all similar in appearance. Each stepped forward in succession and repeated a brief phrase.
As the third man stepped forward, the victim reacted.
“It’s almost like she collapsed,” Detective Michael Brown testified Friday in a pretrial hearing for Brian Sullivan, charged in the case. “I had my arm around her, holding her. I told her, ‘We have to get through this and view the other individuals.’ ”
She finished, made the identification and, on Friday, that man admitted to raping her.
Sullivan, 23, pleaded guilty just hours after the hearing to the high-level felony of predatory sexual assault. In return, he is to receive 20 years to life in state prison at his December sentencing.
Friday’s plea was the culmination of a case that broke ground in police investigative techniques and took advantage of recent technical advances.
The incident had downtown workers fearful of a rapist on the loose who could strike at any time.
Friday’s hearing covered legal issues surrounding the in-person lineup and a video-recorded statement — the first ever use of the technology in Schenectady. Both topics were essentially new ground for Schenectady County Court.
Sullivan returned to court late Friday afternoon, following the hearing, and accepted the district attorney’s offer, one that could keep him in prison for the rest of his life.
“He was very responsive to the judge’s questions,” District Attorney Robert Carney said. “He didn’t equivocate. But he didn’t show any emotion either.”
Sullivan was represented by attorney Steve Signore.
The case began March 11 with the rape of a woman who was simply going home for lunch.
Inside the lobby of 600 Franklin St., a building with several businesses and an attached parking garage, the woman encountered a man in a raincoat and glasses who, in a scratchy voice, asked for assistance.
“I was sent from upstairs to the free clinic,” the man asked, according to testimony. “Do you know where that is?”
She pointed him in the direction of the clinic and continued on her way to the parking garage.
As she was getting into her car she noticed the man had followed her.
Thinking he was after money, she handed over cash. He took it, but he also pulled her from the car. He forced her to a nearby boat trailer, used an attached tow chain to threaten her and raped her on the parking garage floor.
Once her attacker had left, she summoned help. Police flooded the area.
The woman’s description of a white male in a raincoat produced a suspect nearby. Police also looked at a man who frequented the area.
In all, three suspects were produced early on, none of them Sullivan.
Police would even show the victim a photo lineup with one of the suspects. She picked one — one of the fillers.
DNA evidence gathered was rushed to the state police lab. Later samples came from the three men.
Two weeks later, the results came back. The three men were cleared. The parking lot sample, however, matched one in the state DNA database of a recent robbery parolee from Schenectady — Sullivan. He went to prison on a 2006 attack, which ended when the woman knocked off his glasses. He grabbed her briefcase and ran.
He was required to submit a DNA sample as part of the nearly decade-old state DNA databank system.
But he hadn’t been on their radar. Sullivan is biracial, with a darker skin tone than the victim described.
He was brought in for questioning.
A calm Sullivan — wearing a coat similar to the one the woman described — answered questions from Detective Loretta Marco. With little prompting, he admitted he was at the Franklin Street lobby and spoke with the woman.
When pressed that he was leaving something out, he said nothing else happened.
“I didn’t do nothing to her,” he said. “I want a lawyer. I didn’t do nothing to her.”
The entire conversation was caught on the department’s new video system, the first interrogation to be recorded. The department had been working for two years to implement the video system, something that officials believe will take the guesswork out of statements.
While Sullivan did not admit to raping the woman, Carney said later, he effectively closed his only defense. Detectives didn’t tell him about the DNA. With that, Carney said, his only legitimate defense would have been to somehow say it was consensual.
Now, would the woman identify him?
Having already used the photo lineup, police wanted more. They chose the in-person lineup, something vastly more difficult to do and something that hadn’t been done at the department in decades.
A court order requiring Sullivan’s attendance in hand, a half dozen detectives scoured downtown Schenectady looking for men who resembled Sullivan. They found about eight, including one bank employee, and they used five of them.
Those who didn’t have glasses were provided them by the department.
One by one they stepped forward.
When the lineup finished, it was No. 3 that the victim focused on.
“That’s the person that attacked me,” she said, Detective Brown recalled.
The victim, Carney said, was relieved.
“She’s happy that it’s over,” he said, recounting a conversation he had with her after Sullivan’s plea. “I thanked her for being courageous enough to bring this to a conclusion. This wouldn’t have happened if she wasn’t a strong woman prepared to go to trial.”