Last month's sentencing of Angel Martinez for the brutal rape of a city woman should have closed a difficult chapter in the victim's life.
But in a different courtroom two weeks later, the woman's past surfaced again as she was being questioned as a potential juror in the corruption trial of Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez.
On March 30, at Martinez's sentencing, the victim insisted that he was not the man who raped her, despite DNA evidence that implicated him.
Prosecutors in the Perez case said her feelings about the rape case — including her complaint that a police detective tried to steer her toward a specific photograph in a lineup during their investigation — could interfere with her ability to be impartial.
For a crime victim to say the wrong person was being sent to prison on sentencing day is unusual enough, said Vicki Melchiorre, the prosecutor in the rape case. But for the same person to be placed on the jury of a high-profile case weeks later is "incredibly bizarre," she said Wednesday. "You just can't make this stuff up."
The woman was raped while walking to work before dawn on Aug. 20, 2002. Her attacker grabbed her from behind, raped her twice, tied her up with her shoelaces and sprayed her with a fire extinguisher. More than five years later, she had trouble picking his picture out of a police photo array.
Almost two years after that, she saw him in person for the first time since the rape during a court appearance and was certain he wasn't the man who had assaulted her, Melchiorre said. The victim talked about the case of James Tillman — a man who spent 18 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit after that victim picked his picture out of a photo lineup. A deeply religious woman, Martinez's victim didn't want a man she believed to be innocent to go to prison, Melchiorre said in an interview earlier this month.
The prosecutor explained to the woman that DNA evidence eventually cleared Tillman, as opposed to the Martinez case, where the evidence implicated him. But she would hear none of it, Melchiorre said.
"It's certainly good news for the defendant when DNA exonerates them," Melchiorre said, "but, in this particular case, the DNA inculpated rather than exculpated him. I think the DNA is more reliable than her memory."
Still, because Melchiorre was afraid of what a jury would think of the victim's insistence that the wrong man had been arrested, she agreed to a plea bargain that sent Martinez to prison for five years — a much shorter sentence than he deserved, she said. The five years in prison is to be followed by 10 years of special parole, during which he would go right to jail for any violation.
Sources said the woman has struggled with mental illness, both before and after she was raped. Both the sentencing judge, Judge David Gold, and Martinez's public defender, Robert Meredith, declined to comment on the rape case.
On April 13, Melchiorre heard that the victim had coincidentally ended up in the Perez jury pool. She rushed from court to alert the Perez prosecutors about her background, she said, but both the prosecutors and the defense team had already accepted the victim for the jury.
The Perez prosecutors, Michael Gailor and Chris Alexy, tried to get the woman removed from the jury, saying they received information she was not truthful about two answers she gave during jury questioning: She said her religious beliefs would not prevent her from sitting in judgment of someone, and that she held the police in high regard.
They said they had learned she had complained about a detective who investigated her rape, saying he tried to steer her toward a specific photograph when she viewed the photo lineup.
During a hearing on the prosecutors' motion Tuesday, Melchiorre described the woman's practice of praying the rosary for long periods as "a religious obsession" before Judge Julia Dewey prompted her to change her description to religious "beliefs."
Melchiorre also admitted that she had referred to the victim as "crazy" when warning the Perez prosecutors about her, something she later said was "a shorthand way of saying somebody has mental health issues."
"Lawyers, doctors, reporters, everybody talks that way," she told The Courant Wednesday.
Dewey decided to keep the woman on the panel, saying there was no evidence that her actions as a crime victim would affect her ability to be impartial.
Courant staff writer Josh Kovner contributed to this story.