Dominique Strauss-Kahn's lawyers seem to be laying groundwork to defend the former International Monetary Fund chief -- charged with sexually assaulting a hotel maid -- by portraying the encounter as consensual and attacking the accuser's credibility.
Based on reports of DNA evidence on the maid's blouse, those may be their only options to fight the charges, experts said.
"The defense can be one of two things: either it never happened or it was consensual," said Brooklyn defense attorney James DiPietro. "The [alleged] fact that there is semen determines the defense -- that it was consensual."
Strauss-Kahn's attorney, Benjamin Brafman, had no comment.
Brafman and others on his team complained last week in court about leaks in the case, particularly the DNA reports. They also claimed to have information to "gravely undermine the credibility" of the accuser, who said she was attacked by Strauss-Kahn, 62, at the Sofitel hotel near Times Square. Police described the maid, a 32-year-old immigrant from Guinea, as "credible."
Lack of DNA evidence was a crucial element in a high-profile sex prosecution that the Manhattan district attorney's office lost last week -- the trial of two New York police officers accused of raping a fashion executive.
"The absence of DNA in sex crimes cases is very hurtful for prosecutors when juries come to expect to see DNA," said defense attorney Stuart Slotnick, citing increased public awareness of forensic science from TV shows like "CSI" and cases like the O.J. Simpson trial.
When DNA evidence is present, it still doesn't answer the issue of consent, said Manhattan defense attorney Gerald Lefcourt. A defense claim of consent can be shown or disproved by circumstantial evidence, such as the victim's conduct immediately after the incident, he noted.
According to police, the attack took place around noon May 14 when the maid entered the suite. By 12:28 p.m., hotel surveillance cameras captured Strauss-Kahn exiting the hotel. His attorneys said he kept a lunch appointment a few blocks away at 12:45 p.m.
Police said the hotel security staff called the NYPD to report the incident about 1:30 p.m. Strauss-Kahn was aboard an Air France jet for a previously booked 4:40 p.m. flight to Paris from Kennedy Airport when police took him into custody.DiPietro said her hiring of a team of civil lawyers might hurt her credibility and make jurors think "dollars and cents were right in her mind."
DiPietro predicted that at a trial, Strauss-Kahn would likely testify to rebut the maid's account. Another potentially damaging issue for him, said Lefcourt, is that prosecutors may try to bring up other noncriminal complaints against him -- that he tried to grope or entice women into sexual encounters as reported in the French press.
Legal experts don't see Strauss-Kahn giving up without a fight. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. would want to make an example of Strauss-Kahn because of his political stature, said former federal prosecutor and defense attorney Steven K. Frankel. "It is not going to be resolved by a plea because they want to put him in jail," he said.
A former state prosecutor who didn't want to be named agreed a plea bargain is a virtual impossibility. The case has too much notoriety and Vance, who took office in 2010, wants to be perceived as strong, the ex-prosecutor said.
For his part, Vance has stated that his office will treat the case fairly.