The inconsistencies had begun to build up Wednesday night as prosecutors interviewed the Hofstra student who said she had been brutally gang-raped in a dormitory men's room last weekend.
It was time to bring up the video.
"I said, 'If there is a video, and I get that video, it's going to show me that what you're saying is true?' " asked Madeline Singas, the county's chief sex crimes prosecutor.
The 18-year-old woman sat silent for several long moments, Singas said. Then her story veered wildly and fell apart. As soon as the woman admitted she had lied, Singas rushed from the room and picked up the phone. She had only minutes to stop a Nassau detective who was headed to get a warrant signed for evidence in the case, and then to arrest a fifth man in the case.
"Once she recanted, we had to stop everything," Singas said.
At the time, prosecutors had not seen the video. However, late Thursday they obtained a copy, which officials said confirmed the woman's admission that the sex was consensual. Prosecutors would not say how they obtained the video.
Case against men dropped
Within hours, the four accused men had been released from Nassau County Jail, and pursuit of the fifth man had been dropped.
At a news conference Thursday, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said the woman has not been charged with a crime, though she did not rule out filing charges later. She declined to name the woman, though several news organizations have named her.
Rice declined to speculate on the woman's motives for filing false accusations against the men, but she said that, after the consensual encounter, the woman returned home to someone she referred to as her boyfriend and he "asked her some questions." The two then went together to campus security, Rice said.
"Her actions and demeanor suggest a very troubled young woman in need of some help," Rice said.
At the high-rise brick apartment building in Manhattan's working-class Washington Heights neighborhood, where the woman's family lives, a family friend who did not want to give her name said the woman had a "structured" upbringing with "very, very, very involved parents."
Questions loomed large
Law enforcement said even before the young woman's interview with Singas and another top prosecutor, Sheryl Anania, Wednesday night, a few questions loomed large.
Why had none of the students living on the floor where the incident happened heard any commotion that night, when usually they can hear something as quiet as a person brushing his teeth, prosecutors asked. They wondered why the accused rapists would have taken the time to dispose of the rope the woman said they used to tie her in a bathroom stall, but left used condoms littering the bathroom floor, a law enforcement source said.
And finally, why would the accused rapists have asked their victim to come with them when the encounter ended, as she herself said they did?
Still, Singas and the other high-ranking prosecutor who conducted the interview, Anania, said they went into the interview with the woman with a totally open mind.
But as the woman's account of a brutal rape evolved over the first hour of the interview in the fluorescent-lit conference room, the woman seemed to be adding some details that hadn't been part of her initial account to police, and omitting others, prosecutors said.
The prosecutors had heard that there might be a videotape and were in the process of asking a judge to sign a warrant to get the accused men's cell phones. When the woman recanted, though, they said they could not pursue the warrant because they no longer had a case.
Victor Daly-Rivera, a Bronx attorney representing Kevin Taveras, 20, of Brentwood, one of the accused men, said he had viewed part of a short cell phone video of the Hofstra incident taken by a fifth man the woman claimed had raped her.
"Clearly, she wasn't forced. Clearly, she wasn't screaming," Daly-Rivera said of the video. "There were no ropes."
On campus, Hofstra sophomore Patricia Frey, 19, said she still feels "torn up" by the incident.
"Everybody has been ripped from side to side" by the seesawing emotions it provoked, she said.
Melissa Connolly, a Hofstra spokeswoman, said the student who recanted the story of being raped has been suspended pending an internal judicial process.
Rondell Bedward, a Hofstra junior and the only one of the men who was a student, is no longer suspended and the university intends to assist him in his transition, including living in a different dorm if he chooses to, said Connolly.
"I think in some ways the announcement last night was as heartbreaking as finding out or thinking that the incident had occurred originally. Again, a student did something that hurt another student."