Embarrassment to the badge Michael Pena, also known as “Rape Cop,” was sentenced yesterday to 75 years to life in prison for the brutal sexual attack of a young teacher last summer, during which the now-former NYPD officer dragged the woman into an alley at gunpoint and forced her to have sex with him.
Unless Pena, 28, lives to be at least 103, he’ll die in prison — which just about everyone is celebrating as justice served. However, many of those applauding the sentence in the media are the same people who were quick to say Pena “beat the rap” earlier this year when the jury in his case was deadlocked on two charges of rape. As we pointed out at the time, Pena hardly beat any rap — he was convicted of the top felonies with which he was charged.
Now the question remains: will the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office try to convict Pena of rape?
“Rape” is a powerful word, and it’s easy to get hung up on it in a case like Pena’s. But the crimes Pena was found guilty of — in the legal sense — actually are more serious offenses than rape.
Pena was convicted of three counts of predatory sexual assault, which is the most serious sex crime in New York’s penal code — it’s a class A-II felony. Rape, on the other hand, is a class B violent felony.
The difference between rape and criminal sexual act isn’t the seriousness of the offense, but the orifice that’s violated (rape is strictly vaginal intercourse, where criminal sexual act — or predatory sexual assault — is oral or anal contact).
We hate to be crass, but this means Pena is guilty of forcing his penis into the victim’s mouth or anus.
The jury’s decision to not convict Pena of rape was bizarre; basically, the jurors deadlock indicated that they agreed that Pena was pinning down the victim and sexually assaulting her, but they couldn’t decide whether his penis — at any point during the assault — touched her vagina (according to the law, rape is any vaginal penetration, “however slight”).
While the rape convictions would have been nice — and probably provided the victim with a further sense of relief — the fact remains: Pena will likely die in prison.
If the D.A. attempts to retry the case to get a rape conviction, the victim will have to go through even more agony than she already has, once again reliving the attack. And for what — a word?
As we mentioned, Pena’s probably going to die in prison — and the nickname “Rape Cop” already has stuck.
We want to know what you think: is it worth it for the D.A. to pursue a rape conviction for Pena now that he’s already headed to the hoosegow for what will likely be the rest of his life?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 8, 2012