A former police officer who grabbed a schoolteacher off the street and sexually attacked her was sentenced Monday to at least 75 years in prison after being convicted of high-level sex charges, though a jury couldn't decide whether he was guilty of rape.
After staying silent during his trial, Michael Pena apologized to the victim and said he deserved to be punished, though his lawyer later said Pena was shocked at getting the maximum: 75 years to life.
"If I could go back in time, to the day of this incident, and somehow grab myself by the shoulder . . . I have no explanation for what happened that day," Pena, who turned 28 on Friday, said softly, his remarks punctuated by long silences. "I will just have that guilt for the rest of my life."
Capping a trial that portrayed a hideous, sudden assault by an off-duty officer, the judge excoriated Pena as an embarrassment to police, while the woman said the attack -- on her way to her first day of work at a new job -- had destroyed her life.
"My life has been shattered -- my sense of security, my sense of safety, any and all independence," she said, with a supporter by her side, holding her arm. She wept afterward.
A three-year officer who was engaged to be married, Pena was wrapping up an alcohol-soaked night of trying to pick up women when he accosted the teacher on an Upper Manhattan street early one morning last August.
She testified that Pena forced her into an apartment building courtyard and raped her at gunpoint, threatening to shoot her in the face with his police pistol.
Pena's lawyer, Ephraim Savitt, admitted the officer attacked the woman but said he never had intercourse with her, a requirement for a rape conviction. The defense said the woman was so terrified that she was mistaken about what had happened.
A resident of the building heard the attack and called police, who learned Pena was an officer only as they arrested him. One officer said he threw Pena's badge to the ground in disgust.
Pena "showed by his deplorable conduct that he is not one of New York's finest," state Supreme Court Justice Richard Carruthers said at the sentencing. "Michael Pena is, instead, a sexual predator."
Pena told authorities he was drunk and didn't remember what had happened. No tests were done, so his blood-alcohol level was never established. But the judge took aim at Pena's claim, noting that surveillance video captured Pena steadily trailing the woman, and that Pena had tried to mislead witnesses and the responding officers at the scene.
Jurors convicted Pena in March of some of the top charges, including predatory sexual assault, which involves wielding a weapon during certain sex crimes. It carried the potential for life in prison. But jurors deadlocked on rape charges.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. called Pena's 75-year-to-life term "an appropriate sentence that takes the viciousness of the defendant's crime into account."