Cops in NYPD Rape Trial Were Helped by 'CSI'

Two jurors say they believed cops were guilty, but lacked the evidence to convict

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Jurors in the trial of two New York City police officers who were acquitted of raping a drunk woman in 2009 have said they believed the officers were guilty, but couldn't convict them because of a lack of physical evidence, a phenomenon referred to as the "CSI effect." One juror, Melinda Hernandez, told DNAinfo, "in my heart of hearts, I believe her that the officers did it." Another, who didn't want to be named, said, "He raped her. There is no doubt in my mind," and called the verdict, "a slap in the face for women."

But because there was limited physical evidence that officer Kenneth Moreno had had sexual intercourse with the accuser, jurors said they felt they had to acquit under the principle of reasonable doubt. "We were strictly bound by the judge's instruction that there must be evidence beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict the defendants of the major charges of the case," 57-year-old John Finck told the Manhattan news site.

The phenomenon of jurors holding out for conclusive physical evidence has been termed the CSI effect, and that's what DNAinfo asserts took place in the courtroom where former officers Moreno and his former partner, Franklin Mata, went to trial on charges that Moreno had sex with the alleged victim while she was incapacitated with drink, and Mata stood watch. In a 2007 New Yorker feature on the CSI effect, Carol Henderson, the director of the National Clearinghouse for Science, Technology and the Law, at Florida's Stetson University, told writer Jeffrey Toobin, "People are riveted by the idea that science can solve crimes."

The fictional criminalists speak with a certainty that their real-life counterparts do not. "We never use the word 'match,' " [New York Police Department criminalist Lisa] Faber, a thirty-eight-year-old Harvard graduate, told me. "The terminology is very important. On TV, they always like to say words like 'match,' but we say 'similar,' or 'could have come from' or 'is associated with.' "

That guarded language has thrown off juries in the past, Toobin reported, and may have contributed to Moreno and Mata's controversial acquittal. There was some physical evidence that intercourse had occurred, namely bruising on the woman's cervix, but the prosecution raised the possibility that it could have been caused by something other than sex. Jurors determined that possibility was distinct enough to hand down a not-guilty verdict for Moreno and Mata.

Still, the unidentified juror said the two officers, who were fired from the force because they were found guilty of misdemeanor misconduct, "need to do some time because of the charges." Judge Gregory Carro has yet to rule whether to send the former officers to jail on the misdemeanor charges.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.