Forensic tests confirm a sexual encounter in a hotel suite, but prosecutors doubt the credibility of their star witness. The alleged victim has gone public in dramatic and unexpected fashion to fight back. And the media is awash in conspiracy theories.
Welcome to the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual-assault case, which has captured the fascination of two continents. And while all the media attention focuses on the made-for-TV twists and turns, the fate of Strauss-Kahn may rest on the more mundane: physical evidence such as hospital reports, hotel-keycard records, and phone logs.
That’s because the case has turned into a classic he-said-she-said, now that prosecutors have declared publicly that they have substantial doubts about the credibility of Nafissatou Diallo. She is the hotel maid who accused Strauss-Kahn of attacking her May 14, when she tried to clean his room at the luxury Sofitel hotel in New York City.
In a Newsweek interview, Diallo acknowledged making mistakes in lying to prosecutors about an earlier rape in Guinea, filing false tax returns, and lying on an asylum application. But she insists she has told the truth about what happened inside Sofitel suite 2806.
The latest twists make examining the physical evidence—looking for clarity or inconsistencies—an essential task for resolving whether to go to trial against the former International Monetary Fund director or drop the charges. And both the prosecution and defense lawyers are hard at work.
Take, for instance, Diallo’s medical records from her visit to a rape-trauma center the night of the alleged attack, one of the first places where she gave a detailed account of what happened. Many of the same descriptions she gave in her account of the attack to Newsweek are contained in those nurses’ and doctors’ notes.
Diallo was “tearful” as she retold the incident “in narrative fashion, paused while she was describing act of” oral sex that she was allegedly forced to perform, the hospital attendant’s notes stated.
In the hospital records, Diallo didn’t appear to know that the man was Strauss-Kahn, then the head of the IMF and one of France’s most powerful politicians, referring to him instead as a “male, naked with white hair.”
The medical records of the hospital state that doctors observed “redness” in her vaginal area hours after the alleged attack, an area that Diallo alleges was grabbed hard by Strauss-Kahn. Diallo’s lawyer sees the inflammation as supporting her claim, but defense lawyers may argue it is evidence of a prior sexual encounter with another man.
The hospital records say she was also complaining of “pain to left shoulder, which is mild, constant and non-radiating,” and that she appeared to have a contusion. Weeks later, doctors reexamined the shoulder and found a partial ligament tear, she said. Diallo told Newsweek that the injury occurred when Strauss-Kahn forced her to the ground before forcing her to perform oral sex.
Turning to the evidence—looking for clarity or inconsistencies—has become a primary focus. And both the prosecution and defense lawyers are hard at work.
Defense lawyers will look for inconsistencies in the same records as they try to impugn her credibility further.
For instance, in one passage in the hospital notes, Diallo says Strauss-Kahn got dressed and left the room and “said nothing to her during the incident.” In her interview with police and in her account to Newsweek Diallo said Strauss-Kahn made several statements to her during the alleged attack, calling her beautiful and dismissing her complaints that a supervisor was outside the room.
What does not seem to be in dispute is that a sexual encounter occurred in room 2806, Strauss-Kahn’s $3,000-a-night suite.
Diallo said she spit after being forced to perform oral sex, and sources have confirmed that Strauss-Kahn’s DNA was found on her maid uniform and inside the room. Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers have even hinted in court they may argue that the event was consensual, a description Diallo strongly disputed during the Newsweek interview.
Phone records and electronic hotel-keycard records also may prove important in establishing a time frame for the attack and how each person acted in the immediate aftermath.
The keycard records seem to support Diallo’s account that on the morning of May 14 she had cleaned room 2820, around the corner from Strauss-Kahn’s suite. She said it was the last thing she did before she entered his suite. She had keyed the door to room 2820 at 10:30 a.m., 11 a.m., and 11:30 a.m.
Keycard records show she entered Strauss-Kahn’s suite at 12:06 p.m. She told Newsweek she didn’t bring her cleaning supplies into the room because she was checking to see if it had been vacated, and said the attack occurred shortly afterward.
Phone records from Strauss-Kahn may help pinpoint a time the alleged attack ended; they show he made a call to his daughter at 12:15 p.m.
The keycard and phone records would suggest the entire episode in the room took no more than nine minutes.
Prosecutors have told the court they believed Diallo recently changed her story about what she did after the attack, saying she failed to mention until recently that she went back to clean room 2820, and then Strauss-Kahn’s room, after he left and before a supervisor found her and she reported the attack.
But the keycard records suggest she couldn’t have gone back and cleaned room 2820 because she keyed the room at 12:26 p.m., and in the same minute keyed the door to suite 2806, which Strauss-Kahn had just left.
Diallo offered a plausible explanation that fits the keycard records—that after hiding in the hallways until Strauss-Kahn left, she went quickly into room 2820 to get her cleaning supplies. And she adamantly insists she didn’t change her story.
Defense lawyers are likely to use the same keycard records to offer a different theory, suggesting she returned to room 2806 to see if Strauss-Kahn had left behind money or a tip for what he thought was a consensual encounter.
Whatever arises in the coming weeks as prosecutors painstakingly reconstruct the physical evidence, rest assured there will be two interpretations of every key piece of evidence.