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Sarah Goode slaying prompts alleged abuse victim to come forward

Nicole Lukas, of Medford, says she was threatened

Nicole Lukas, of Medford, says she was threatened by Dante Taylor in 2011 with a knife and almost raped before she was able to run away, on July 24, 2014 in Medford. Credit: Newsday / Jessica Rotkiewicz

For several years, Nicole Lukas kept her silence out of fear.

She told no one, not even her own family, what really happened one summer afternoon -- when she says a brawny teenage boy tried to rape her, knife at her throat.

Then she heard about Sarah Goode, and everything changed.

Goode, 21, of Medford, the mother of a 4-year-old girl, was raped, stabbed and beaten to death on June 7, authorities said. The brutal attack started in her car and ended in the nearby woods, not far from her home, where her body was found by volunteers.

Authorities first questioned an ex-Marine from Mastic, 19-year-old Dante Taylor, about Goode's disappearance on June 10, said defense attorney Patrick O'Connell, of Central Islip, who was speaking last month on behalf of Taylor's family.

But Suffolk County homicide detectives couldn't crack the murder case until after Lukas stepped forward. It was her attempted rape complaint against Taylor dating to 2011 that led to his July 10 arrest in Vero Beach, Florida. Days later, based partly on DNA evidence, a murder charge was filed.

"I thought about Sarah," Lukas, 21, said in an interview at her Long Island home. "I kept a secret for these years; I could have kept it secret. But there was something in me -- I felt horrible about what happened [to Goode], for her whole family, her friends, her baby."

Lukas said a detective contacted her after the slaying, saying he heard that she may have also been attacked by Taylor.

Shocked by the call and suspecting a friend of Taylor's was the source, she went to the Seventh Precinct in Shirley the next day. She said she gave her account in detail for the first time and picked Taylor out of a photo lineup.

Taylor has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and first-degree attempted rape and is being held without bail in the Suffolk County Jail. He faces life in prison if convicted.

"Warning bells should go off as to the reliability of any complaint made three years after it supposedly happened, especially when there is nothing credible to corroborate it," said Taylor's attorney, William Petrillo of Rockville Centre.

Lukas said she didn't have the courage to report what happened to her earlier, when she was 18, scared and living with her grandmother less than a mile from Taylor's home.

But sometimes she wonders whether she should have come forward sooner.

"I wish I would have said something because maybe none of this would have happened," she said. "But I know it wasn't my fault."


'I'll kill you'

They met at her friend's Sweet 16 party.

Lukas remembers dancing and hanging out with Taylor and other local teens on July 9, 2011. Afterward, she and Taylor exchanged phone numbers.

"He was flirting with me. He was just really nice that day," she recalled.

The next day, he called and asked her to meet with him and his male friend. The three ended up in Taylor's bedroom, where they sat on his bed talking at about 2:30 p.m., she said.

Then his friend left, and Lukas said Taylor, then 16, started touching her arm and leg.

She said he pushed her down onto the bed and tried to take off her clothes.

In an account corroborated in court papers, she said she resisted and he took a knife from a shelf over his bed and threatened to kill her, pressing the 6-inch blade against her throat. "He kept saying, 'I'll kill you.' "

Lukas said she waited until Taylor withdrew the knife and sprang off the bed, but he pushed her against a wall and began hitting her. When he again forced her onto the bed, she slapped him in the face, causing him to roll over in surprise.

She said she ran out of the room. When she got home, she told her grandmother very little. "I just said something happened, some guy tried to do stuff to me. . . . I didn't want to scare her," she said.

Lukas said her grandmother tried to get her to say more, but she refused.

"I was really in shock," she said. "I cried all night."

Later, when she revealed a little more about the attack to her aunt and grandmother, they all agreed: For her own safety, she shouldn't report it.

She hasn't seen Taylor since that day, she said.

Lukas said she has testified before a grand jury and knows she might have to face him again if the attempted rape charge goes to trial.

That possibility terrifies her.

Three years later, her emotional scars remain raw. She still gets anxious when she and another man are alone in a room.

Still, she hopes her story inspires people, especially young women suffering from sexual abuse, to report the crimes. Lukas has gone a step further, publicly identifying herself as an attempted rape victim.


Helping others speak up

There has been slow progress on that front, said Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of the Washington-based Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

"We are trying to get toward an environment where every survivor would report, but we're a long way from getting there," he said.

Surveys show that about 40 percent of alleged victims now report sexual assaults, up from 30 percent in the 1990s. Berkowitz said the reasons for not reporting attacks vary greatly, but fear and desire for privacy are major factors.

Lukas, who graduated from William Floyd High School, said she grew up in a volatile family, forced to live on and off in foster homes, starting when she was 4.

Her grandmother and other relatives declined to comment.

Currently unemployed and living with a friend, Lukas hopes to become a singer. More immediate ambitions are to attend community college and speak out about what happened to her and become a counselor to help others. "It is just a really big thing to get hurt like that," she said.

With Kevin Deutsch

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