Saturday, June 23, 2012
In a startling reversal in a case that raised questions about misconduct in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, defense lawyers for two of the four men from Crown Heights, indicted last year on charges of raping and forcibly prostituting a neighborhood woman for nearly a decade, said that prosecutors notified them on Wednesday that they were planning to drop all charges in the case.
The district attorney’s office declined to comment, but two former members of the office with close ties to people who still work there said the indictment could be dismissed as early as Tuesday, when a hearing in the case is scheduled.
The charges, brought against the men last June, created an initial shock not only because the victim complained of being attacked beginning at age 13, but also because she was a member of the Chabad Lubavitch community of Orthodox Jews and the accused were older black men in the same neighborhood, where those two groups coexist, but rarely interact.
Announced with great fanfare at a news conference by Charles J. Hynes, the district attorney, the case was immediately questioned by friends and relatives of the defendants: Damien Crooks, Darrell Dula and two brothers, Jawara and Jamali Brockett.
Then in April — 10 months after the men were imprisoned awaiting trial — the district attorney’s office announced that it had improperly withheld a police report in which the victim recanted some accusations she had made, a fact that had not been shared with defense lawyers. Additional documents were subsequently turned over to lawyers for the men, including medical records that suggested the accuser had a history of mental illness.
Shortly after the police report was produced, Abbie Greenberger, a prosecutor on the case who had quit her job, said that her boss, Lauren Hersh, the chief of the district attorney’s sex-trafficking unit, had pressured her to move forward despite concerns about inconsistencies in the case. Weeks later, Ms. Hersh herself resigned after facing questions from an internal ethics panel.
After news of the exculpatory statements first emerged, Justice John P. Walsh, of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, ordered Mr. Dula and Mr. Crooks to be released from Rikers Island although they still faced charges at that time. The Brocketts remain in prison on unrelated charges.
On Wednesday, Mr. Crooks’s lawyer, Elliot S. Kay, said his client was thrilled by the news that the case against him would be dropped.
“Damien’s pleased that he can put this matter behind him and get on with his life,” Mr. Kay said. “And he’s pleased that the D.A.’s office realized that the just thing to do is to dismiss all charges.”
The victim’s father, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to not to expose his daughter’s identity, said he was extremely disappointed with the district attorney’s office.
“They basically wrote this case off in a manner that sends a really bad signal to other victims,” the father said.
The case reached a crisis on June 5 when Mr. Dula’s lawyer, James Phillips, filed a motion to dismiss the charges based largely on the withheld evidence. In answering the motion, the district attorney’s office would have had to acknowledge its own misconduct, but that would not be necessary with a dismissal, said one of the former prosecutors.
Jerry Schmetterer, the chief spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney, declined to comment on the case other than to say, “We will be in court on Tuesday morning.”
Even after Ms. Hersh quit her job, a steady stream of new information continued to emerge. Weeks ago prosecutors handed over to the defense recordings that the accuser had secretly made of telephone calls she placed after the indictments. In the calls she can be heard discussing elements of the case in an apparent attempt to bolster the account she had presented to the grand jury. At times, she discussed what sounded like misgivings.
“I care for him and I have feelings for him and I feel closer to him than anybody out there,” she told one person she spoke to, adding, “I wish I could just like, I don’t know, just say forget it, just work it out with Crooks.”
Mr. Phillips, the lawyer for Mr. Dula, said he was happy to hear that the charges would be dismissed but added that he could not help feeling that justice delayed was justice denied.
“Nobody was a winner in this case,” Mr. Phillips said. “Darrell Dula, an innocent man, was jailed for almost a year.”
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