Strauss-Kahn pleads 'not guilty' in sex crime case
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At a brief court hearing in Manhattan Monday, former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn (centre) pleaded not guilty to charges that he sexually abused a New York hotel maid, setting the stage for a lengthy legal process.
Dressed in a dark suit with a sky-blue shirt and a tie, disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn pleaded not guilty to charges that he sexually assaulted a hotel maid during a court appearance in New York Monday that was closely watched by the international media.
The French politician, who was once seen as a frontrunner for next year’s French presidential election, made a brief appearance at New York’s state Supreme Court in lower Manhattan Monday for an arraignment in a case that has grabbed headlines in his native France and across the world.
Accompanied by his wife - the heiress and former French journalist Anne Sinclair - and his guards, Strauss-Kahn entered the courthouse for his first court appearance since he was granted a $6-million bail-and-bond package last month.
Inside the courtroom, Strauss-Kahn, replied “not guilty” in a quiet but firm voice when asked how he intended to plead to the charges.
The internationally renowned economist then nodded as State Supreme Court Justice Michael Orbus went through the formality of the proceedings and said “yes” when the judge told the defendant he needed to be present at his trial.
The next court hearing was set for July 18.
Strauss-Kahn was arrested May 14 on charges of trying to rape a 32-year-old hotel maid in the luxury suite of the Sofitel New York. He has been indicted on seven counts, including criminal sex act, attempted rape, sexual abuse and unlawful imprisonment. The most serious charge carries a maximum term of five to 25 years in prison.
‘Shame on you’ scream hotel workers
Monday’s court appearance attracted a massive media scrum, as news crews from across the world gathered to cover a case that pits a team of celebrity defence lawyers hired by a man of global economic and political importance against a newly beefed-up prosecution team under Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance. The prosecution includes heavyweights Joan Illuzzi-Orbon and Ann P. Prunty, both of whom have prosecuted high-profile cases in the past.
Reporting from outside the courthouse Monday, FRANCE 24’s Nathan King said the crowd also included about 150 members of the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council. Dressed in their housekeeping uniforms, they took up a chant of “Shame on you” as Strauss-Kahn and Sinclair made their way into the courthouse, said King.
As the news of the former IMF chief’s not guilty plea spread outside the courthouse, King said a “big shout” went out from the ranks of hotel workers.
Flanked by his celebrity lawyers, Benjamin Brafman and William Taylor, Strauss-Kahn looked nonplussed in the courtroom as the demonstrators’ chants filtered into the thirteenth floor room.
‘No element of forcible compulsion’
Addressing reporters shortly after his client’s brief court appearance, Brafman said that by the end of the legal proceedings, “it will be clear that there was no element of forcible compulsion in this case whatsoever”.
The prosecution has suggested that evidence from the work clothes of the hotel maid matched DNA samples taken from Strauss-Kahn. Legal experts however say the defence is likely to argue that such evidence could be consistent with a consensual encounter between the 62-year-old former IMF chief and the hotel employee.
“If the prosecution has very strong evidence that there has been a sexual encounter, that gets them about halfway there, but not the most important half. The other half is they have to prove it’s non-consensual,” explained Eric Lisann, a former US federal and state prosecutor in an interview with FRANCE 24.
For their part, the prosecution has maintained that their client was the victim of a forced sexual encounter.
Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse Monday, the hotel maid’s lawyer Kenneth Thompson said the 32-year-old woman of Guinean origin has not worked since the May 14 encounter because she is “traumatised”.
Slamming speculation that the Bronx-based single mother was misconstruing or exaggerating the encounter, Thompson said his client planned to testify in court.
“The victim wants you to know that all of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's power, money and influence throughout the world will not keep the truth about what he did to her in that hotel room from coming out,'' said Thompson.
Stage set for lengthy legal process
Monday’s arraignment, in which an accused is formally advised of the charges and enters a plea, now sets the stage for a lengthy legal process, according to most legal experts.
“The prosecution has an obligation to start turning over several key pieces of evidence as part of what’s called the discovery obligation,” explained Lisann. “Between this point and the beginning of the trial itself they must also produce the statements of all the witnesses they will call to testify so that the defence has ample time to prepare for it…In cases like this, the defence does not show their cards because they have absolutely no obligation to do so,” Lisann added.
New York law prohibits lawyers from exposing a possible rape victim’s sexual history, but Strauss-Kahn’s team will likely take an extensive look at the accuser’s background and may try to prove that she has a history of lying.
Strauss-Kahn himself is not obligated to testify.
After hearing both sides, the jury will be asked to reach a unanimous verdict.
If the verdict is guilty, the court must decide on the prison term.