By Corinna Barnard and Rita Henley Jensen
WeNews editor and editor in chief
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Melinda Hernandez, a juror for the New York City trial of two police officers acquitted last week of rape charges, is anguished over the not-guilty verdict. But in this exclusive interview she says the evidence left no other choice.
NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)-- Melinda Hernandez, a member of the jury that last week acquitted two New York police officers, is distressed by a process that she felt left her no choice but to vote not guilty. Justice, she says, was not served.
"As a feminist it really challenged my values to vote not guilty," an emotionally spent Hernandez told Women's eNews in an exclusive telephone interview on May 30.
In particular, she was concerned about the way forensic evidence--in a case concerning police as perpetrators--went through the New York Police Department lab and was then sent to New York Medical Examiners lab. "I think they should have hired an independent person to collect the evidence," Hernandez says. "There's just common sense behind that."
While acquitted of the rape charge, the two officers--Kenneth Moreno, 43, and Franklin Mata, 29--were convicted last week of official misconduct and fired from the force the same day. They will be sentenced by the State Supreme Court on June 28 and each face up to two years behind bars. Had they been found guilty of rape, the pair could have been in jail for up to 25 years.
In December 2008, the accuser celebrated a job promotion in a Brooklyn bar and became intoxicated. After drinks at the club, she took a taxi to her apartment building in downtown Manhattan and the taxi driver called the police to assist her out of the taxi and up to her fifth-floor walk up. Moreno and Mata responded. Videotapes from security cameras indicated the two police offers returned three more times to her apartment that night.
Hernandez says the woman testified that she was passed out and lying on her stomach and awoke to being penetrated by a penis. Then she passed out again. During the trial, she says it was revealed that Moreno was in the room with her and Mata was said to have been sleeping on her couch.
During a controlled meeting--initiated by the internal affairs department of the New York Police Department--Moreno was confronted by the victim, who was wearing a recording device, outside the 9th precinct. She told him that they took advantage of her. He denied the accusation many times. She told him that she awoke to him having sex with her. Again, he denied anything had happened.
It wasn't until the woman threatened to go into the precinct and make a scene that Moreno admitted to wearing a condom. He also assured the woman that she "didn't have to worry about getting any diseases." She asked if it was the two of them and Moreno told her it was just him. Moreno later claimed that he had said that to get her to leave him alone.
The verdict set off a storm of controversy in New York City, with a large demonstration led by members of the City Council's Women's Caucus, the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women, Feministing and Permanent Wave.
Here are Hernandez's reflections on the case. She spoke from an undisclosed location as she continued to avoid her own home due to pressure from news media for an interview. Three central features of the case led her to cast her "not guilty" vote: the lack of any evidence gathered from the accuser's apartment; the nature of alcohol-induced blackouts as described by an expert witness; and an absent key witness.