A Gruesome Account

Feb. 10, 1992
Feb. 10, 1992

Table of Contents
Feb. 10, 1992

First Person
Sled Dog Racing
The Knicks
The Tyson Trial
Seattle Mariners
Elmore Spencer
Baseball Cruise
Point After

A Gruesome Account

Mike Tyson's accuser told jurors at his Indianapolis rape trial of an evening of pain and terror

Every day Mike Tyson sat impassively in Courtroom 4 of Marion County Superior Court in Indianapolis, listening mutely as the prosecution presented testimony and evidence to support its claim that he had raped an 18-year-old beauty contestant in a hotel room in that city last July 19. Every day, often twirling a pen between his teeth, he watched the lawyers preen. And every day, as the clock neared six o'clock, the 25-year-old former heavyweight champion of the world draped his overcoat on his massive frame—he must weigh 260 pounds these days, at least 40 above his lighting weight—and strode-out of the courthouse to the white Lincoln Town Car awaiting him, waving to the crowds as they shouted words of encouragement. "Not guilty!" they yelled. "Hang in there, champ!"

This is an article from the Feb. 10, 1992 issue Original Layout

As his trial entered its second week on Monday, with Tyson expected to testify by midweek and the jury facing deliberations perhaps as early as Friday, Tyson was clearly in the fight of his life. Although his prospects could change by the time the defense rests, the strength of the case the prosecution made during the trial's first seven days made it seem possible that after the verdict, Tyson might leave the courtroom in handcuffs and leg irons through an underground tunnel that leads from the courthouse to the Marion County Jail a block away.

Tyson betrayed little emotion in the opening days of the trial, and only once did he seem genuinely uneasy. Last Thursday he was sitting at the defense table, his hands folded in front of him and his eyes down, when prosecutor Greg Garrison looked at Judge Patricia Gifford and made the announcement everyone had been waiting for. Tyson's eyes opened with an unmistakable start.

Using the full name of the woman Tyson is accused of raping, including her middle name of Lynn, Garrison said, "The state would call—— Lynn ——, Judge." In acquaintance-rape cases such as this, no other moment matches the one in which the accused finally faces his accuser—the first instant when, after months of legal maneuvering, the only two people who know the truth are together in open court. Now, more than six months after Tyson and his accuser had last been together, in room 606 of the Canterbury Hotel, the confrontation was at hand. As Garrison held open a side door leading into the courtroom, waiting for his witness to arrive, Tyson was 30 feet away, staring at the top of the table in front of him. He raised his eyes, glancing furtively at the open door, then quickly looked away. Several more times he stole nervous peeks at the doorway. When the petite college freshman stepped into view, looking somber in a gray suit over a white blouse, Tyson saw her but at once cast his glance back to the tabletop.

The tension of that moment was but prelude to emotions the young woman's six hours of gripping testimony would evoke. In an occasionally ghastly account of the events surrounding the 45 minutes she spent in Tyson's hotel room at the Canterbury, the former Miss Black America beauty contestant testified that Tyson grabbed her, stripped off her clothes and ultimately restrained and raped her on his bed. Twenty-five hours later, with the encouragement of her parents, she complained to the police. On Sept. 9 a Marion County grand jury indicted Tyson on one count of rape, two counts of deviate sexual conduct and one count of confinement. Tyson's defense is that after coming to his room, the young woman consented to have sex with him.

During those first seven days of jury selection and trial, the prosecution's scrambling team of relatively low-paid lawyers clearly outshone Tyson's side, a $2 million legal juggernaut led by celebrated Washington, D.C., attorney Vincent Fuller. In the early going Fuller and his defense team came across as awkward, even inept. During jury selection Fuller, standing stiffly behind a lectern that had been brought to the courtroom especially for him, questioned prospective jurors like an aging, occasionally fumbling professor quizzing a class of captive students. In sketching the broad outlines of the case that he would be making in Tyson's behalf, he used the most stilted language. "Do you appreciate that consent can be given impliedly or expressly?" he asked one man. The man responded with a puzzled look, so Fuller tried again: "Do you understand that the facts and circumstances between two people can give rise to express or implied consent?" The poor fellow nodded tentatively, seemingly unsure about what he was agreeing with. Fuller used the word implied so often and in so many contexts that he even asked one juror how long she had been "implied" in her job.

By contrast Garrison was folksy and engaging. In his opening statement to the jury, he roamed the well of the courtroom as he told a seamless, compelling story. He used no notes, and when he reached the point in his narrative at which the alleged rape took place, he leaned into the jury box. Sweeping his arm in a cutting downward motion, he described Tyson throwing the accuser onto the bed "like a rag doll." He talked of a "massive forearm" holding her down, and as he gave his version of how Tyson had lifted the young woman by her legs, he dramatically thrust his right hand high above his head.

When Fuller rose to address the jurors, he was as far from them as he could be without moving into the audience section of the courtroom. He riffled through his stack of notes, and needed two pairs of eyeglasses to find what he was looking for. Not that Fuller didn't score some points. Directing the jury's attention to two men who were sitting in the spectator section, Fuller identified them as lawyers hired by the accuser's family and said of them, "If Mr. Tyson is convicted, they will file a big lawsuit which stands to make [the accuser] a wealthy woman." The two lawyers, Ed Gerstein and David Hennessy, would not appear again in the courtroom.

Besides dealing with questions about the accuser's motives, the prosecution faced the difficult task of explaining to the jury what the young woman was doing in Tyson's bedroom at two in the morning. Toward that end Garrison guided the accuser through a recounting of the events of that night. Her testimony suggested a trusting, starry-eyed teenager who had foolishly allowed herself to be drawn out of her room at the Omni Severin Hotel, a block from the Canterbury, by a post-midnight phone call from Tyson in which he begged her to join him for a ride, saying he just wanted to talk.

The accuser had first met Tyson only 12 hours before at a promotion for the beauty pageant. "You're a nice Christian girl, right?" he said, according to her testimony. At one point, she said, he asked her out on a date and she replied, "Sure." He agreed to try to set up one of her roommates, beauty contestant Pasha Oliver, with singer Johnny Gill, who was with Tyson, so that they could double-date. She wrote down her hotel room number and gave it to Tyson. The accuser, a Sunday school teacher, said she noticed that Tyson was wearing a large pin on his shirt that said TOGETHER IN CHRIST.

Tyson and the young woman encountered each other later in the afternoon, and she testified that he had asked her, "Are we still going out?" She said she hoped that Tyson would ask her to a concert that night, but he never called, and she ended up attending the concert with Oliver. Back in her room, at about 1:30 a.m., she slipped on her polka-dotted pajamas and was ready to go to sleep when the telephone rang. It was Tyson.

"He said, 'Can you come out?' " she testified. "And I was like, 'At this time? And do what?' He said, 'We'll just go around. I just want to talk to you. Can you come out?' " Tyson made the call from the limousine he had hired for his stay in Indianapolis.

At the urging of her roommates, the accuser testified, she agreed to join Tyson. She slipped on some clothes, dabbed on some makeup and left. She took her camera, she said, "because I thought we were going out to different parties and I would be able to take pictures of other people. And also my dad was a big fan of his, and I wanted to get pictures of him, too."

On the street she spotted the gold limousine and hopped into the backseat. "He hugged me and he grabbed me...," she said, "and he went to kiss me, and I just kind of jumped back...because I was surprised...and because his breath kind of smelled, too. He said, 'Oh, you're not like the city girls. You're a Christian girl.' And he got really, really nice. He asked me how my day was and stuff like that."

Limousine driver Virginia Foster drove the pair to the Canterbury. "And then he [Tyson] said something about he had to stop in and pick something up," the accuser testified. "And he said something about a bodyguard.... And he opened the door or the door was opened...and he said, 'Come on.' And I said, 'O.K.' "

According to the accuser's testimony, a few minutes later she and Tyson went into room 606. She sat down in a chair near the door. "I thought we were leaving," she told the jury, "... so I was going to wait for him right here [in the chair]." Tyson went into the bedroom, turned on the television and sat down at the head of the bed to make a phone call. Then she heard him beckon her inside.

"The TV's in here," said Tyson.

"I thought we were leaving," she said.

"Just come in here," he said. "I want to talk to you for a second."

The young woman testified that she walked into his bedroom and sat at the foot of the bed. Tyson asked her about her home and school, she said, and told her about the 200 pigeons he was raising. "And I thought that was great, because I love animals," she testified. "And he said that he got them because he bought a few and they had babies and they had babies. I just thought that was really neat...."

The two continued to talk for a few more minutes. Then, she testified, a change moved like a shadow over Tyson: "And he just leaned over, and his voice changed and everything. He had been really pleasant and stuff. And it just changed like that. And he said, 'You're turning me on.' ...It kind of startled me. And I said, 'Well, listen. I don't know what you think I came up here for. I'm not like these women you may have up here...I'm not like that.' And I got really nervous and started babbling. And I said, 'I need to use your bathroom. When I come out, I want to go see Indianapolis like you said.' ...And he just grabbed his face like this [she put a hand over her face]. And he said, 'O.K. O.K.' "

She testified that she got up to use the bathroom because she was menstruating and wanted to change her panty liner—an action the defense is expected to cite in arguing that, at this point, she had made up her mind to have consensual sex. In her testimony the woman said that when she left the bathroom, she saw that more than the tone of Tyson's voice had changed in that room. The bedspread had been pulled back, and, she said, "I glanced over and saw the defendant in his underwear...on the bed. He was just sitting there.... I was terrified."

"It's time for me to leave," she recalled saying, at which point he told her: "Come here." He grabbed her arm, telling her, "Don't fight me. Come here." He pulled her toward him. She testified that she fought him but to no avail. "It was like hitting a wall. It didn't do anything."

Pleading with Tyson was useless as well, she testified. In spite of her cries of fear and pain, she said, Tyson raped her on the bed. "It felt like someone was ripping me apart," she said.

The young woman had told her story at least six times before—including her interviews with police, her grand jury testimony and her pretrial deposition—and there had been a strong expectation that Fuller would be able to mine her accounts for damaging inconsistencies. However, in his nearly three-hour-long cross-examination, he could not change the basic shape of her story, and he conspicuously avoided any interrogation of her on the sexual attack itself. The weakness of the cross-examination made her direct testimony appear all the more powerful.

During his opening statement Fuller had revealed his strategy for discrediting the young woman—that she saw Tyson as a wealthy target whom she could lure into a profitable lawsuit. In his cross-examination of the accuser, Fuller indicated that he would call to the stand five other pageant contestants, a pageant official and a policewoman who would testify about a multitude of statements the young woman had allegedly made that would cast doubt on her story. But on Monday, Stacy Murphy, a contestant called by the prosecution, testified that later in the morning in question, Tyson's accuser told her, "I feel so stupid; he raped me." The witness added that the accuser "didn't look like herself.... This was a zombie."

After the accuser stood down, the prosecution presented several witnesses who testified that following the alleged attack Tyson left the hotel and Indianapolis in a hurry—a possible act of flight that under Indiana law could show "knowledge of the commission of a crime." Foster, the limousine driver, testified that Tyson had told her at one point that he was planning to stay in Indianapolis through July 19—the day of the alleged early-morning rape. Testimony by hotel employees indicated that Tyson and his bodyguard, Dale Edwards, checked out of the hotel at 4:30 a.m.—about two hours after the alleged rape. Hotel phone records and testimony by a night clerk indicated that while the alleged victim was still in Tyson's room, Edwards, using a lobby telephone, made airplane reservations for Tyson and himself on a flight to Cleveland leaving at 5:45 a.m.

The first-week testimony presented an ugly portrait of the former champion. Unlike the circumstances of the Florida rape case in which William Kennedy Smith was acquitted in December, Tyson and his accuser did not meet at a bar, and there was no drinking, no dancing and no moonlit beach. According to his accuser's testimony, Tyson's attack on her occurred less than 30 minutes after he picked her up at her hotel, and there was an air of premeditation about it. The woman's account portrayed Tyson as a remorseless brute who laughed at his victim even as he assaulted her and who ridiculed her pleas for him to stop by telling her, "Don't fight me, mommy."

On Monday, the jurors heard two other contestants testify that Tyson repeatedly fondled and groped contestants while attending a pageant rehearsal. But because of a ruling by Gifford, they had not heard still another damning account of Tyson's hours in Indianapolis. Last Saturday, with the jury removed from the courtroom, Garrison appealed to Gifford to permit Foster, a 44-year-old junior high school guidance counselor who owned and operated a limousine service, to testify about her own experiences with Tyson. Garrison said that shortly after Tyson's arrival at Indianapolis International Airport, Tyson lured Foster into a hotel room by employing much the same ruse that the rape accuser had described. "Come in," Tyson said to Foster, according to Garrison. "I just want to talk." After locking the door behind Foster, Garrison said, Tyson grabbed her and started kissing her, backing off only after Foster pushed him away. At another moment, according to Garrison, Tyson exposed himself to Foster.

Garrison told Gifford that Tyson's conduct with Foster was clear evidence of his "state of mind" during his visit to Indianapolis and argued that Foster should be allowed to testify about Tyson's alleged advances toward her. The defense argued vigorously against it. Ultimately Gifford, hewing to Indiana case law, disallowed the testimony, but Foster's account could still be heard later in the trial.

Whatever the jury of eight men and four women finally decides, it was clear that some citizens of Indianapolis refused to believe the terrible things that were being said about Tyson in Gifford's courtroom. Eight hours after his accuser had completed her testimony, more than 200 Tyson supporters gathered at Christ Missionary Baptist Church in Indianapolis to hold a prayer vigil for him. Most of them appeared to blame the alleged victim for the predicament Tyson found himself in, believing that she simply should not have been in his hotel room at 2 a.m. At one point in the vigil, a woman declared from the pulpit: "Black women, we must remember that our bodies are our temples, and we control them. If we don't respect ourselves, who will?"

The speaker received a standing ovation. Among the celebrants was Tyson, who applauded. And smiled.

PHOTOPHIL HUBERAs Tyson entered the court, his smile for photographers belied the gravity of his situation.PHOTOPHIL HUBERGarrison (with coprosecutor Barbara Trathen) was more compelling than his rival counsel.TWO PHOTOSPHIL HUBERAway from the trial, Tyson heard expressions of support at a prayer vigil and attacked his excess weight with some predawn roadwork.