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No criminal charges for student's false rape accusations

A female Hofstra student who lives in this

A female Hofstra student who lives in this Manhattan apartment building on Riverside Drive falsely accused five men of gang raping her after a campus party, the DA said. Photo Credit: James Carbone

The Hofstra University student who prosecutors say falsely accused five men of gang-raping her in a dormitory bathroom will not face criminal charges as long as she gets psychological help and does 250 hours of community service, under an agreement she signed Friday with the Nassau County district attorney's office in which she admitted lying about the incident.

Prosecutors say they considered, but rejected, bringing a criminal charge against Danmell Ndonye, 18, of Washington Heights, who was publicly identified by the district attorney's office for the first time.

Earlier, District Attorney Kathleen Rice had declined to name the woman, citing the ongoing investigation into the Sept. 13 incident and Ndonye's subsequent recanting of her story.

 

Agreement sets the terms

The agreement, signed yesterday by Ndonye, her lawyer and Stephen Antignani of the district attorney's office, sets specific terms of Ndonye's punishment. If she breaches the agreement, prosecutors could use her sworn admission that she lied as evidence in a criminal case against her.

"There exists no perfect solution to this case, only our best attempt at holding her accountable while encouraging real victims to come forward and accusers to tell the truth, so that we can avoid incarcerating an innocent person for even one minute," Rice said in a statement Friday afternoon.

Bruce Barket, a Garden City attorney hired this week to represent Ndonye, said his client's primary goal was to avoid a criminal prosecution, what he called "an extremely difficult," expensive and unnecessary process that would have served nothing more than to create a "circus" at every court appearance.

"They took a very, very difficult situation, and we were able to fashion a reasonable and quick resolution that I think satisfies everybody's concern," Barket said Friday afternoon. "It was a very difficult time for everybody involved, and there was virtually no chance that the young woman was going to serve any jail time."

A Hofstra spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment.

 

Acknowledging evidence

Ndonye acknowledged in the agreement that prosecutors had sufficient evidence to charge her with the misdemeanor crime of making a punishable false written statement - that is, she knowingly lied to authorities about the allegation of gang rape, and she also had prepared a sworn written statement giving the false account.

If criminal charges had been brought against Ndonye in connection with the incident, a judge would have been required to give her youthful offender status, which means that her record would have been sealed at the time she was sentenced, prosecutors said.

Rice noted the mental-health aspect of the agreement, saying, "Because of the youthful offender provision in the law, a misdemeanor charge doesn't hold this girl accountable, and it wouldn't require that she get the treatment that she needs."

Barket said Ndonye had sought counseling before she hired an attorney and had seen a therapist twice since last week. In addition, she is no stranger to community service, he said, having done volunteer work with AIDS patients in the past.

In the statement that the young woman signed Friday, she says she had sexual contact with four of the men, prosecutors said. She says she did not have sexual contact with Rondell Bedward, 21, of the Bronx, the only one of the men who is a student at Hofstra.

Jim Cohen, a criminal-law professor at Fordham University, said Friday that while agreements of the kind Ndonye signed are unusual in high-profile cases, they happen somewhat frequently in less-publicized cases.

 

A message to real victims

In the end, Cohen said, the agreement accomplishes the same thing that a criminal prosecution would, but may send a message to real rape victims that they are safe telling their stories.

"The difference between this and a conviction is like the difference between dusk and twilight - I don't think there's much of a difference at all," he said.

The statement of guilt that Ndonye signed as part of her agreement with prosecutors would be strong evidence in any civil lawsuit that the wrongly accused men file against her. But it is no stronger than a criminal conviction would have been, Cohen said.

Ndonye also made a new statement to police after she first admitted that she had lied, though it was not immediately clear whether that statement would be available for use in a civil case.

Initially, Ndonye told police that she was gang-raped early the morning of Sept. 13 after a man she was dancing with at a party stole her cell phone, then lured her into a bathroom in Estabrook Hall, where his friends were waiting. She told police that five men used a rope to tie her in a stall and raped her.

Four men - Bedward, Stan Felipe, 19, and Jesus Ortiz, 19, all of the Bronx, and Kevin Taveras, 20, of Brentwood - were arrested and arraigned on charges of first-degree rape. Authorities still were seeking a fifth man when the case took a marked turn.

On Sept. 14, the district attorney's office learned that a video of part of the bathroom incident might exist.

On Sept. 16, prosecutors who were interviewing the young woman told her that the incident may have been videotaped. She soon admitted that sex with the men had been consensual.

Within hours, charges against Bedward, Felipe, Ortiz and Taveras were dropped and they were released from jail.

After Ndonye recanted her story, Hofstra officials suspended her pending an internal judicial process.

With Alfonso A. Castillo

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