Hofstra rape case: Five questions stand out

A Hofstra student's rape claim was recanted, Nassau

A Hofstra student's rape claim was recanted, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said Wednesday night. From left, From left, Jesus Ortiz, Kevin Taveras, Stalin Felipe and Rondell Bedward after being released from a Nassau jail and cleared of all charges. (Sept. 16, 2009) (Credit: James Carbone)

Five young men accused, four of them arrested and jailed. Young woman recants, and four innocent men are set free. Case closed, at least for now. But things are not so neat. And hardly over.

There are many lessons to be learned, and questions that need answering. Here are five.

1. The young men are free from jail. And free from false allegations of rape. But at the least, they were involved in an ugly incident - sex acts being performed by multiple young men and an 18-year-old freshman in a college dorm men's bathroom - and one of them used a cell phone camera to record part of the proceedings. The men did nothing illegal, but that doesn't make the behavior any less despicable.

-- PHOTOS: Rondell Bedward, Kevin Taveras, Stalin Felipe and Jesus L. Ortiz celebrate after being cleared of all charges

In a photograph, three of the four young men smiled and gave thumbs up signs on the night of their release. They had reason to be greatly relieved, and happy. But not proud.

2. Hofstra University, it turns out, did not have a gang rape on campus. But its reputation is tarnished, nonetheless. Five men - four visitors and a 21-year-old student - allegedly were involved with the 18-year-old freshman in a bathroom stall. And apparently no one noticed.

-- PHOTOS: Rondell Bedward, Kevin Taveras, Stalin Felipe and Jesus L. Ortiz celebrate after being cleared of all charges

That's hardly the notoriety Hofstra needs. And officials know it. "We are going to be talking to students about personal responsibility and responsible behavior," said vice president for university relations Melissa Connolly. "This represents an opportunity to talk." Better now than never.

3. One woman's lie could have sent five innocent young men to state prison for up to 25 years. Some students on campus I talked to Wednesday night angrily compared her to the woman who lied about three members of the Duke lacrosse team, falsely claiming they had sexually assaulted her.

Eric Phillips, a spokesman for the Nassau district attorney, said prosecutors were troubled by the Hofstra freshman's demeanor during the interview that turned into a confession. She was controlled, almost too cool.

Was that evidence of her lie? Or a sign of whatever fueled an incredibly poor decision to have sex with five men? Did she not want to stop? Did she not know how? And why did she go to campus security to report the incident only after first going to see her boyfriend, who began to ask her questions, according to prosecutors. Legalities aside, what constitutes informed consent for an 18-year-old in such a situation?

4. Nassau County police officials, I am told, were stunned when the district attorney's office told them the woman had recanted. But police - and Hofstra campus police - did the right thing in moving quickly to act on the woman's initial statement by questioning the suspects she had described. That's what should happen in the first stages of a rape investigation.

Here's what shouldn't happen. During a Nassau Police Department news conference Monday, a police official speculated that the young men planned the attack. The woman's false statement, on its face, was brutal enough. The speculation added fuel to fear on campus and outrage from a region already reeling from another campus-related crime hitting close to home - the killing at Yale of Annie Le.

5. A cell phone video of a portion of the sexual activity was key to gaining the young woman's confession. If not for the video - taken by one of the woman's alleged sex partners - four young men could still be in jail today. That would mean that neither the police department nor the district attorney's office had key evidence that destroyed the woman's statement.

And that's the most disturbing thing of all.

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Four men joyful in release; Hofstra students react to news