The New York Post and the Daily News devote their front pages to the same story Tuesday. Well, the Daily News really devotes their front page, giving nearly the entire cover, minus a banner at top, to the story of Michael Pena, who was sentenced to 75 years to life in prison yesterday on three counts of predatory sexual assault. For the Daily News, this makes for yet another cover on the story, and presents a follow up to their front-page question posed back in March: "What does a woman have to do to prove she was raped?"
It's a not irrelevant question to remember, since while the tabloid calls Pena a "rape cop," (a term we also heard with regard to former NYPD officers Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata, who were ultimately acquitted of rape but charged with official misconduct), Pena was not, in fact, convicted of rape. That particular charge led to a deadlocked jury, reportedly over a matter so seemingly inconsequential as the victim not being able to remember the color of a car parked in a courtyard.
As the News' Melissa Grace, Thomas Zambito, Tracy Connor, and Corky Siemaszko wrote in March: a "Manhattan jury made up of highly educated professionals refused to convict Officer Michael Pena of rape for a startling reason—the victim could not recall the color of a car parked by the courtyard where she was forced to her knees, sources told The Daily News Thursday." Manhattan lawyer Lloyd Constantine, a man with "professional and social ties to both Mr. Vance and his opponent in the last election," as Ross Buettner put it in The New York Times, was pointed to as a trial "meddler" who may have stirred up the jury and lead to the deadlock.
As Janon Fisher and Corky Siemaszko write in an article on Pena's sentencing, "The mixed verdict in the controversial case infuriated legions of New Yorkers who could not fathom why the jury presented with so much evidence failed to convict Pena of rape."
The New York Post dedicates half of their cover to the story, which leads to a rather odd half-and-half—almost schizophrenic, certainly of questionable taste—effect. On one side, "Rot, Sex Cop!" and on the other, Beyoncé in a see-through dress and the headline "Fashion's big night." The Post does not call Pena a "rape cop," however, though they do get both words on the cover, noting that the "creep who cheated" the rape verdict is getting life in jail. In a lengthier follow up to Monday's report on Pena's sentencing, Laura Italiano writes in the paper that "The jury would convict Pena of oral and anal sodomy, but a pair of stickler jurors caused a deadlock on four forcible-intercourse counts — an outcome that left the woman visibly distraught back in March." Italiano continues, "Both sides will return to court May 23, when prosecutors will announce whether they will retry those charges, which are two counts of first-degree rape and two counts of predatory sexual assault."
Given that Pena has already received 75 to life on the greater counts of predatory sexual assault—and, as the News puts it, won't be out of jail until he's 103 (he's currently 28)—it remains to be seen whether the DA will see fit to move forward with a trial over the matter of rape, which, as we've written before, may resonate more fully as a conviction with the general public than the relatively new term "predatory sexual assault." As a semantic matter, or a gesture to the victim, is it worth convening another trial if the man is already in jail for the rest of his life? Italiano writes that "A [rape] conviction could extend Pena’s already beyond-the-grave sentence by an additional 25 years and offer a final measure of closure to the victim." It also would mean that the tabloids would legitimately be able to put a "rape cop" on their covers.
Regardless of that decision, Pena's in jail for quite a long while. As his lawyer Ephraim Savitt told reporters after the sentencing, at which he'd asked for 10 years for his client (the minimum allowed by law), “There are mass murderers getting less time." Perhaps that's true, but that doesn't seem a good reason for him to be out any sooner. The judge apparently agreed.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.