Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice on Monday stood behind her controversial decision not to prosecute the young woman who lied about being abducted and raped by five men in a Hofstra University dorm.
In her first interview explaining the decision, Rice said her goal had been to ensure that the young woman publicly admitted guilt, accepted accountability and responsibility for her crime and repaid the community through service.
"This is a big deal," she said. "You look at the Duke case and at the Tawana Brawley case and you see that those women never admitted to anything."
Rice, who said she never personally spoke to or saw the young woman, said she was satisfied prosecutors had plentiful evidence of Danmell Ndonye's lie, which sent four innocent men to jail.
She said that evidence - which included cell phone video - led her office to insist on language in a deferred prosecution agreement that would make it impossible for Ndonye to later change her story and claim that while she may not have been raped, she'd been sexually assaulted or sexually abused.
"We did not want any loopholes," Rice said.
"I know there are some who believe that 18-year-olds don't act like this in college dorms, but I am not the moral police," she said. "No matter what it was, it was consensual."
The agreement, which was signed at 4:27 p.m. on Friday, effectively made Rice prosecutor, jury and judge in a high-profile case. It included requirements that Ndonye get mental health treatment for a year and do 250 hours of community service.
Rice has entered into controversial agreements before.
She made deferred prosecution agreements with accused drug dealers as a way to help clean up crime on Terrace Avenue in Hempstead Village. And a decrease in crime in the area, according to police statistics, appears to show that it's working.
Rice also made a deal after a stampede of Black Friday shoppers killed a seasonal worker at Wal-Mart in Valley Stream in 2008. In that case, Wal-Mart was not charged after the company agreed to a settlement that included an outside assessment of safety issues for all of its stores and a financial settlement that went to some victims and various community, not-for-profit programs.
Rice's decision on the Hofstra case has generated the most attention, however.
That's because it involves sex. And because it hits on the fear of wrongful imprisonment. In this case, four innocent men could have been sent to state prison for up to 25 years.
Rice, a Democrat, is seeking re-election to a second-term this year. Over the weekend, her opponent, Joy Watson, a Republican who worked as a sex-crimes prosecutor under former District Attorney Denis Dillon, slammed Rice's decision. Watson said she would have charged Ndonye and let the matter make its way through the courts.
Monday, Rice, who defeated Dillon four years ago, slammed back, saying Watson doesn't understand how modern prosecution works.
"Had this case gone to court, the record would have been sealed," Rice said, noting that Ndonye's age and clean record, combined with a misdemeanor criminal charge likely would have netted her zero jail time.
"There would be no public admission," Rice said, "no public accountability," because as a youthful offender the records would have been sealed.
Rice said Ndonye's motive may never be known. And, Rice said, she's concerned about the potential that the case could make rape victims reluctant to come forward and press charges.
"There is no doubt that this is not a politically popular decision," said Rice.
"I think it was the right decision," she said.