Wearing a jailhouse orange jumpsuit, NYPD Police Officer Michael Pena pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a criminal indictment, charging he raped a New York City school teacher who was on her way to work.
"He's a nice man, he never had any problems in his life," Pena's uncle Pedro Crespo said about the 27-year old cop, who was off-duty when he was arrested on August 19th, accused of raping the woman at 6:30am in a courtyard behind 83 Park Terrace in the Inwood section of Manhattan.
Prosecutors said in court he asked the woman for directions and tried to give her a ride. When she refused, they said Pena showed her his police-issued gun and forced her down a driveway, before the assault.
Once in the courtyard, Pena allegedly sexually assaulted the victim numerous times. A resident of a nearby building reportedly overheard the struggle between the two and called police. Responding officers arrested Pena at the scene.
Initial news reports indicated the officer was intoxicated at the time.
Pena's young fiancee, Alma, was among two rows of relatives and friends who came to court Wednesday. She refused comment afterwards, but we asked Pena's uncle, Pedro Crespo, if she was supporting him.
"Yes, 100 percent," Crespo told us.
Pena, who worked for Manhattan's 33rd Precinct, has retained a new defense attorney, Ephraim Savitt.
"It's not a slam-dunk case, until we have forensic, slam dunk evidence," Savitt told PIX 11, noting they're still waiting for DNA evidence from rape kits.
"Remember, Strauss-Kahn was not a slam-dunk case," Savitt continued, referring to the French politician who was indicted in May for forcing a hotel maid to perform oral sex. The case was thrown out of court, when prosecutors learned the maid had lied about various parts of her background and the hotel incident.
Savitt suggested he will call the school teacher's story into question, even though eyewitnesses watching from their windows called 911, reporting an attack, with the 25-year old woman screaming for help.
"Two people might be in an alleyway, two people might be doing something that's not consistent with good character," he said.
Pena faces 25 years to life if convicted of the charges. Unlike Dominique Strauss-Kahn, he's been unable to post $1 million bail and remains behind bars.
Pena's defense attorney said the cop used to do maintenance in his apartment building, while he was still in college and before he joined the NYPD. Pena's parents are immigrants from the Dominican Republic.
"I remember when he became a police officer, how proud his father was," Savitt told PIX 11. "His son had made it in America."
Now he's trying to make it, out of jail.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun