New York NY May 9 2012 A former New York City police officer who managed to avoid a rape conviction for a sexual attack on a schoolteacher at gunpoint was nonetheless sentenced on Monday to 75 years to life in prison.
In issuing the sentence, Justice Richard D. Carruthers of State Supreme Court in Manhattan criticized the former officer, Michael Pena, for abandoning his official oath and assaulting the 25-year-old woman “in the most brutal and degrading manner possible.”
Mr. Pena, who turned 28 on Friday, was convicted in March on three counts of predatory sexual assault and related charges. Justice Carruthers declared a mistrial on two rape counts, which unlike the other counts required a finding of penetration, after the jury of eight men and four women said they were at an impasse on those charges.
The victim, who had cried out and gasped for air when the mistrial was declared, beamed with a wide smile and hugged friends and family and law enforcement officers in the courtroom after the sentence was announced.
She had entered the courtroom with several other women shortly before addressing the judge. Speaking for only a few moments, she said the attack was on her mind constantly.
“He used his weapon and basically destructed my life with the choice he made that day,” she said.
Mr. Pena also spoke briefly and haltingly. He apologized for the “pain and anguish” he had caused the victim, her friends and family, as well as his own friends and family, who were also represented in the courtroom. He said he wished he could go back to that day “and grab myself by the shoulder,” as his voice trailed off.
“I have no explanation for what happened that day,” he added.
Justice Carruthers barely let Mr. Pena finish his last sentence before levying a 25-years-to-life term on each of the three predatory sexual assault counts, to be served consecutively. The judge praised the young woman’s bravery and composure during the attack and throughout the prosecution.
Mr. Pena was off duty when he grabbed the woman just after 6 a.m. on Aug. 19 in the Inwood section of Manhattan. She was waiting outside for a ride to her first day in a new job teaching second grade when Mr. Pena accosted her at gunpoint; he led her to a courtyard, where he repeatedly sexually assaulted her, threatening to shoot her in the face if she made any noise or opened her eyes.
Justice Carruthers dismissed a claim by Mr. Pena’s lawyer, Ephraim Savitt, that Mr. Pena had been drunk and not entirely aware of his actions.
“He was as aware and self-possessed on that day as he was vicious and devious,” the judge said.
Mr. Savitt had asked the judge for a sentence of 10 years to life, citing his client’s three and a half years of service on the police force and lack of a prior criminal record.
“What my client did was unforgivable,” he said in court. “But it was also an aberration.”
Mr. Pena would not be eligible for parole until after his 100th birthday.
Outside the courtroom, Mr. Savitt called the sentence “draconian” and said it exceeded others issued to terrorists and murderers. He said he would consider an appeal.
The office of Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, has not yet indicated whether it might seek a retrial on the rape counts, or whether its decision will be colored by the sentence. In a statement, Mr. Vance commended the victim’s bravery and said the “life sentence underscores the brutal nature of the defendant’s attack on an innocent young woman.”
Justice Carruthers set a court date of May 23 to hear whether prosecutors would seek a retrial on the rape counts.
During the trial, the jury’s deliberations took an unexpected turn.
In a meeting with the judge, one juror raised questions about whether the judgments of another juror, Lloyd E. Constantine, were being clouded by his relationship with a losing candidate for Manhattan district attorney in the 2009 election.
The court would later learn that Mr. Constantine knew Mr. Vance and the losing candidate, Richard Aborn, and had not disclosed those relationships during jury selection. Neither side in the case asked that Mr. Constantine be removed from the jury.
After the mistrial was declared, one juror said that Mr. Constantine had been among the three holdouts opposed to convicting Mr. Pena on the rape counts.