The last time the Manhattan District Attorney’s office handled a high-profile rape allegation, the chief assistant pushed the case into the grand jury before the head of the sex crimes unit could interview the complainant.
As a result, the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case imploded and was dropped before there was a fair determination of whether his accuser had been raped.
Let us hope the higher-ups in the D.A.’s office will refrain from meddling in the newest big case, a rape allegation against Greg Kelly, a 43-year-old former Marine pilot who became a popular morning TV host. He’s also the son of NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
Through his lawyer, the younger Kelly has strenuously denied the allegation and investigators are said to be skeptical of the woman’s account. Innocence would make him the person with the greatest interest in the facts being established clearly and convincingly.
And that actually may happen. The early indications are that the D.A.’s office is doing in the Greg Kelly case what it should have done in the Strauss-Kahn case—letting the prosecutor with the most expertise do her job without interference.
In the DSK case, the person who should have been allowed to just do her job was the longtime head of the sex crimes unit, Lisa Friel. She has since departed, but she has been replaced by a woman of equal expertise and experience, Martha Bashford.
If left undisturbed to purse her duties as the new head of the sex-crimes unit, Bashford will come as close as anybody possibly can to establishing the truth of what happened in the encounter between Greg Kelly and his accuser after they met at a Lower Manhattan bar and went to her office in the nearby financial district.
According to a former investigator in the D.A’s office, Bashford will begin by speaking at length to the complainant. This is the crucial step that was skipped in the Strauss-Kahn case, on orders from Chief Assistant District Attorney Daniel Alonso.
More often than not, sex-crime complainants lie, sometimes about details of the incident, other times about matters unrelated to the case that they find embarrassing or fear will make them less believable. An experienced sex-crime prosecutor becomes a master at determining any such lies at the outset.
If the accusation is at all credible, Bashford is sure to conduct a detailed check of her background, as well as of any medical records that might support reports she became pregnant as a result of the alleged encounter in October and subsequently had an abortion. Standard procedure also would call for interviewing the bartender and waiters who were working at the South Street Seaport bar the night Kelly and the complaint are said to have met. Kelly is well known and is more likely than most to be remembered.
Then there is any person who encountered or spoke to the complainant in the aftermath of the supposed liaison. That would prominently include the woman’s boyfriend, who is said to have become furious upon learning of the incident. He reportedly confronted Commissioner Kelly at a public event, saying his son had “ruined” the woman’s life.
At the same time, Bashford will have investigators check any security cameras that may have filmed the younger Kelly and the woman together, though the footage may well have been automatically erased since then. The cameras in question could include ones the elder Kelly has made part of New York’s counterterrorism strategies.
Most likely, the complainant used a key card that recorded exactly when she entered the building where her law firm has its office. A guard may have asked Kelly to sign in.
The younger Kelly and the complainant are said to have communicated after the encounter, and Bashford is sure to seek the content of any text messages or emails. The texts may not be available, because companies seldom preserve them on the server for more than a few days, if at all. The texts could still be on the actual cell phones, though they may well have been erased over the course of three months, to make room for new ones.
In any event, Bashford should be able to determine when any texts were sent as well as when any phone calls were made and who initiated them. The content of emails, whether sent by computer or smart phone, would still be available, though Bashford will need to secure a search warrant to obtain them.
Once her unit has gathered as much information as it can, Bashford may offer the younger Kelly an arrangement known as “Queen for a Day.” He would have an opportunity to come in and give his side of the story with a guarantee that whatever he said would not be used directly against him. Whether he actually did so would likely depend on what his lawyer decided was wise.
Then, Bashford will consider a two-part question: what are the facts and what is provable?
A Yale law school graduate, Bashford has been with the D.A.’s office for more than three decades, and she has in the past declined administrative positions because she did not want to be taken away from actually investigating and prosecuting. She can be counted upon to pursue this case to the most just conclusion.
“You just do things professionally,” a longtime investigator says of her style. “You forget about the outside world. You don’t worry that this is the police commissioner’s son. You just do your job.”
Many people who know and admire both Greg Kelly and his father became all the more dubious about the woman’s charges after they learned she had waited three months to make the report, and had continued communicating with a man she says raped her. The Kelly supporters suggest she made the belated allegation to absolve herself after her boyfriend learned of the dalliance and became enraged. The Kelly supporters say they cannot imagine how hard this must be for a father who has always been so manifestly proud of his son.
At the same time, at least one person who knows and admires the accuser describe her as devastated.
The surest way to the truth is for the higher-ups at the District Attorney’s office to put their trust in their lead sex-crimes expert.
“That’s not what they did in DSK,” the investigator says. “Let’s see what they do now.”