DA: Hofstra student lied about rape; 4 released

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, Jesus Ortiz, Kevin Taveras, Stalin Felipe and Rondell Bedward give a thumbs-up after being released from a Nassau jail and cleared of charges. (Sept. 16, 2009) (Credit: James Carbone)

The Hofstra University student who told police that she had been tied up in a college dormitory stall Sunday and gang-raped by five men -- one of them a student -- told prosecutors late Wednesday that she lied about the incident, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said in a statement.

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

After hearing the news, prosecutors convened a late-night court hearing at First District Court in Hempstead, where Judge Robert Bruno signed an order dismissing the charges against the four men in the case, Rice said.

They were released a short time later from Nassau County Correctional Center in East Meadow and were greeted by family members who embraced them, laughing and weeping with joy.

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

"I'm happy," said Kevin Taveras, 20, of Brentwood, as he walked from the jail. "I just want to go home now."

Asked what the past few days have been like, Taveras, who works for Cablevision, Newsday's parent company, said, "It was terrible. It was terrible. I feel like our names were tarnished. But maybe with all the news out, people will see we're not rapers."

In a phone conversation late Wednesday night, Stalin Felipe, 19, another of the accused, said he was relieved.

"I'm feeling great right now," said Felipe, who was with his sister, Carol Felipe, and Taveras at a relative's home in Brentwood. "Me and [Taveras] were smiling. We couldn't believe this was true. I thought it was a dream, a pretty good one."

The 18-year-old woman made a "full recantation" in an interview with two prosecutors Wednesday evening, and admitted that the encounter had been consensual.

The four men had told police that the sex had been consensual when they were arrested, one law enforcement source said.

Rice said her office has opened an "immediate criminal investigation into the statements and reports given by the woman in connection with this incident."

That investigation will determine whether the woman is charged with a crime, said Eric Phillips, a spokesman for the district attorney.

Phillips said prosecutors are not releasing the woman's name at this time, both because she has not been charged with a crime, and because they fear for her safety.

After hearing the woman had recanted her story, Hofstra Vice President of University Relations Melissa Connolly said Wednesday night, "This week has been a very difficult one for our entire community, and we will need time to heal and understand the events of the last few days."

The men arrested on the rape charges were Hofstra student Rondell Bedward, 21, Felipe, 19, and Jesus L. Ortiz, 19, all of the Bronx; and Taveras.

All had been charged with five counts of first-degree rape.

Outside the jail just before 11 Wednesday night, Felipe said he wants to move on.

"I don't even have any hard feelings," he said. "I am happy to be alive. To be a caged animal when you are not guilty is the worst."

But he added, "I'm 19. I have my whole life in front of me, and suddenly it was all over. I was facing 5 to 25 years in jail."

As for what he's going to do next, Taveras was concerned about his  job. "I'm going to try to get my job back. HR called me and left a message, but I never got it because I was locked up."

Despite what happened, Taveras felt concerned for his accuser. "I don't know why she said what she did say. I hope she doesn't go through what we went through."

Taveras' father, however, was not feeling as magnanimous.

"No one from the system had the courtesy to call my house and let me know my son is released," said Ramiro Taveras, 43. "There's no words to describe what me and my family went through for these three days."

The woman had originally told police that she had been dancing with Ortiz at an on-campus party just before 3 a.m. when he grabbed her cell phone from her belt and went outside.

The woman told police she followed Ortiz to a dormitory hallway, where she was confronted by Felipe. The woman said the two men forced her into a men's room toilet stall, tied her up and raped her, police said. She said later the three other men entered the bathroom and raped her, too, police said.

Officials said the woman had immediately reported the incident to campus security. Hofstra then notified Nassau police. Within hours, the four men were arrested, officials said.

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

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

Newsday writer Bill Mason and freelance writer Daniel Edward Rosen contributed to this story.

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