A Crushing Verdict

Feb. 17, 1992
Feb. 17, 1992

Table of Contents
Feb. 17, 1992

Magic Johnson
Mike Tyson
XVI Olympic Winter Games
Don MacLean
Steve Avery

A Crushing Verdict

An Indianapolis jury, after deliberating 10 hours, convicted Mike Tyson of raping an 18-year-old beauty-pageant contestant

The hour had come at last, and with it the final silence that so many had been awaiting since the proceedings had begun two weeks before. It was 10:52 on Monday night, and the scene in Courtroom 4 of Marion County Superior Court was frozen into an eerie diorama. The lawyers sat staring fixedly into space. The jurors gazed blankly across the white light of the room. And Don King, carrying a Bible, sat as still as a statue in the front row of the spectator section.

This is an article from the Feb. 17, 1992 issue Original Layout

At the very center of it all, with the corners of his mouth turned down and his eyebrows furrowed, Mike Tyson sat motionless at the defense table. It had been here, in this courtroom, that the central drama of Tyson's life had been played out. It had been here that the former heavyweight champion of the world had watched as the state of Indiana built a compelling case that he had raped a college-bound 18-year-old last July 19 in room 606 of Indianapolis's Canterbury Hotel. And it had been here that he had watched as his $5,000-a-day attorney, Vincent Fuller, fumbled his way through a closing argument. At one point Judge Patricia Gifford had to remind Fuller that an exhibit he was seeking to display to the jury—a floor plan of room 606—had never been officially admitted into evidence; he could not use it. And it had been here that Tyson acquiesced as Fuller took the extraordinary gamble of not only putting him on the stand, but also of depicting him as a notorious sexual predator in an attempt to persuade the jury that the accuser should have known better than to go out with him and accompany him to his room. In effect, Fuller asked the jury to believe that Tyson was so sexually ravenous that no woman would go out with him except to have sex but not so ravenous that he would commit rape. It was a tough sell.

Now all of that was done, and the man widely regarded as the toughest fighter on the planet (see following story) took one deep breath as bailiff Ed Atwood turned and carried three white sheets of paper from the jury foreman to Gifford. The judge riffled through the papers and began reading:

"We the jury find the defendant, Michael G. Tyson, guilty of the crime of rape...." Tyson's head snapped back slightly, but his face betrayed no emotion. Gifford then read verdicts of guilty on two counts of deviate sexual behavior. At 25 and not yet in his physical prime, the most lucrative drawing card in boxing history now faced a maximum of 60 years in prison, though he is likely to serve between three and six years. Gifford set a sentencing date of March 6, at which time she could permit Tyson to remain out of jail pending his appeal—a process that could take a year. There will be those seeking to have Tyson fight while his appeal is considered. But it would be inconceivable for any jurisdiction to license him after a conviction for such a heinous felony.

Responding to Fuller's plea that Tyson was "a celebrity with no place to go," Gifford allowed Tyson to remain free on $30,000 bond. All that Gifford required was that Tyson surrender his passport. King pulled it out of his black leather shoulder bag. "Here it is," King said, and turned it in.

Hours earlier, in his summation to the jury, prosecutor Greg Garrison had pounded on the major elements of Tyson's defense. Garrison's presentation was masterly, as it had to be. So-called acquaintance-rape cases are difficult to win; because of the absence of eyewitnesses, these cases boil down to which principal witness, the accused or the accuser, is more persuasive. In his efforts to cast reasonable doubt on the complainant's account, Fuller argued in his summation that Tyson's accuser, who had come to Indianapolis to compete in the Miss Black America pageant, was a gold digger. He also contended that Tyson, who was in town to attend the Indiana Black Expo, was telling the truth when he testified that, after the young woman had consensual sex with him in his hotel room, she spurned his invitation to spend the rest of the night with him.

In his closing argument Garrison mocked the defense's contentions. He proclaimed the gold-digger argument "a ridiculous fairy tale," pointing out that if the young woman had truly been after Tyson's wealth, she would have accepted his invitation to spend the night as a prelude to a more enduring relationship.

Before closing arguments began, Garrison sensed that he had the momentum. Seeing the accuser sitting with her mother—the young woman had returned for the closing arguments, her first appearance in court since her testimony ended on Jan. 31—Garrison approached her and took her hand. "The fight's over for you," he said. "So just loosen up. We kicked his ass."

As it turned out, Garrison was accurate in his reading of a trial that had twisted like a slalom course, cresting in its first week with the accuser's wrenching account of the alleged rape and cresting again in the second week with Tyson setting forth his version of the same events. Fuller's decision to have Tyson take the stand was risky, though the lawyer obviously concluded that it was a gamble he had to take. In addition to the accuser's account, the defense had to overcome the testimony of Tyson's limousine driver, who described in detail how the accuser had rushed in agitation and disarray from the hotel after the rape, and that of the victim's mother. At least two jurors had tears in their eyes as they listened to the woman relate how the alleged attack had become her daughter's recurring nightmare.

Garrison ended the state's presentation by playing a tape recording of the accuser's call to 911, in which she reported the assault approximately 24 hours after she had left Tyson's room. All the jurors had listened raptly as the young woman was heard describing how Tyson had raped her.

Last Friday, 86-year-old Camille Ewald, whom Tyson calls his mother, chewed her nails, knuckles and bottom lip as Fuller led Tyson through his 75-minute testimony. This was no angry, defiant man who had come to denounce his accuser as he proclaimed his innocence. Instead, Tyson appeared as a hesitant, halting witness who seemed uncomfortable in the chair. Twice Fuller said, "Keep your voice up, please."

Tyson described how he had arrived in Indianapolis on July 17, and told the jury that he spent his first day and night in town with B Angie B, a rap singer who was performing in the city that weekend. The next day, Tyson said, he was at the Omni Severin Hotel, taping a promotional video for the Indiana Black Expo with contestants in the Miss Black America pageant when he first saw his accuser.

Tyson testified that about 20 minutes after they had met, the young woman consented to having a sexual encounter with him. He said, "I grabbed the girl and pushed her to me. 'Would you like to go out, do you want to go out?' And she said, 'Sure.' " Later, Tyson testified, "I said, I had told her—she said, 'Yes, we'll go out, we can go to a movie or dinner.'... I said, 'That's not what I want to do.... I want you.' "

"Did you say anything else?" Fuller asked.

"It's kind of crass," Tyson said. "I'd rather not say it, unless Your Honor gives me permission."

"You may say it," said Fuller.

"I explained to her that I wanted to —— her," Tyson said, using a common vulgarity for intercourse.

"What did she say?" asked Fuller.

"She said, 'Sure, just give me a call,' " Tyson testified.

Fuller then asked his client if the woman had made any comment about his direct approach. "She said, 'That's kind of bold,' " Tyson testified. Asked by Fuller how he responded to that, Tyson replied, "I said, 'That's the way I am. I just want to know what I'm getting before I'm getting into it.' "

According to Tyson's testimony, the victim then gave him her room number at the Omni. That night, Tyson said, he reached the accuser in her hotel room on his limo phone. Although she was already in bed, he persuaded her to join him. In his limo, Tyson said, they began kissing and touching. The limo took them to the Canterbury, a block away, and they went to Tyson's sixth-floor room. Tyson testified that he and the young woman went into the bedroom, sat on the bed and talked for 10 minutes about his pigeons and about her home and then started kissing. After both he and the young woman removed their clothes, Tyson said, he performed oral sex on her and they had intercourse on the bed. The only time she got irritated with him, Tyson testified, was when, after they had had sex, she asked him to walk her downstairs and he said he was too tired. She left his room alone.

The accuser's account of those events had been dramatically different from Tyson's. He did not speak lustfully to her the afternoon before the alleged rape, she had testified, and when he reached her on the phone after midnight, he promised to take her around town in the limo. She pulled back, she had said, when Tyson tried to kiss her in the limo. The accuser had testified that she went to Tyson's room alone with him after he said something to her about getting his bodyguard, and that Tyson lured her into his bedroom by saying he merely wanted to talk. She had said that after several minutes of conversation he removed all but his underwear while she was using the bathroom, attacked her when she came out and, despite her pleas to stop, raped her.

Tyson's testimony was lacking in plausibility and loaded with contradictions, and on cross-examination Garrison hammered away at Tyson's assertion that the accuser—who had been presented to the jury as a model citizen, an honor student and Sunday school teacher—had chirpily agreed to have sex with him 20 minutes after they met. Garrison also hammered at Tyson for having said that he couldn't remember having had a long sexual encounter with B Angie B on July 18, which the singer recalled vividly in her deposition, even as he purported to remember the smallest details of his brief meeting with the accuser.

Fuller's gambit had failed miserably; Tyson was his own worst witness. "Whenever they have to put the defendant on the stand, you know things are going well," said coprosecutor Barbara Trathen after the verdict was announced. Ultimately, with no eyewitness testimony to consider, the jury was left to weigh the accounts of the accuser and the accused. For one juror it came down to a simple detail. The young woman had testified that when she rushed from her room to join Tyson in his limo, she had taken her camera. She thought Tyson would show her the town and escort her to some of the celebrity-packed parties being held on the eve of the beauty pageant. "We asked ourselves, Why did she take the camera?" said the juror. "I thought she was under the impression she was going to go out and see the sights." After two weeks and 49 witnesses, such small points helped decide Tyson's fate. But the larger point was that they believed his accuser, not him.

PHOTOPHIL HUBERFound guilty on all counts, the former champ faces a March 6 sentencing date.