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EDITORIAL: Danmell Ndonye should have been charged

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice will not charge the 18-year-old who lied about being gang raped in a Hofstra University dormitory. That's a mistake.

Rice made a private deal with Danmell Ndonye who, in exchange for not facing a misdemeanor charge, agreed to pay for and undergo one year's worth of psychiatric counseling and do 250 hours of community service. It's possible the outcome would have been the same had there been a prosecution. Or Ndonye could have gotten up to six months of jail time, or she could have been acquitted and walked away.

Society, however, would have been better served if the district attorney had left her fate to the judicial process.

Rice argues that her deal is better because it identifies Ndonye, puts her on record admitting to a lie and guarantees that the young woman gets mental health treatment. But that's not enough to tip the argument in the district attorney's favor. Ndonye was already identified in media accounts and on Facebook as having lied. What's most disturbing, however, is that what Rice did implies a lack of trust in the judicial system.

Why prosecute? It would have let us know more about what unfolded that night. The initial handling of the incident raises questions about the timeliness of the police investigation and why experienced sexual abuse prosecutors weren't involved in the case sooner.

This was a very unusual case: A woman claimed she was gang raped, but from the outset there were claims of consent and conflicting information. Where was the rope that restrained her, and why did she have no bruise marks from it? Why did no one in the dorm hear her supposed screams? Why did the media find the student in the dorm room closest to the bathroom - who said he heard nothing - before police? Did she concoct her story to appease a suspicious boyfriend? Why didn't police talk to him? Why would the assailants leave used condoms, obvious DNA evidence, in the bathroom?

Ndonye accused four young men (a fifth was never arrested), who had no prior records. Their versions about what happened in the bathroom, while not what most parents would like to hear, were consistent. (One of those she accused is an employee of Cablevision, which owns this newspaper.)

Beyond the details of how law enforcement handled this case, are its implications for the future. Rice justifies her decision not to prosecute because it would have a "chilling effect," making actual victims fearful to come forward. That concern is misplaced. Historically, police and prosecutors have been hostile to women who made rape charges, but the consensus now in law enforcement is that these cases should be fully and aggressively prosecuted. For legitimate claims to be taken seriously, however, society must also know that phony ones will be punished. That's what will make the voice of every true victim even stronger.

Instead, Rice's resolution risks creating the perception that there isn't much downside to making up a story that could have sent someone to jail for 25 years. Even though the charges were dropped, the men's names and photographs are forever linked with one of society's most heinous crimes.

Prosecutors are vested with enormous power and discretion. It's best when the rest of the criminal justice system is allowed to balance the scales. hN


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