Police have arrested a suspect in connection with the violent sexual assault of a 73-year-old birdwatcher in Central Park Wednesday, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.
The suspect, 42-year-old David Albert Mitchell, was identified by the victim in a lineup at the Special Victims Unit Thursday afternoon. He was charged with predatory sexual assault, rape, criminal sex act, robbery and assault.
Mitchell first said nothing as he was led from the special victims unit to face charges in court, only spitting at reporters as he walked past them.
Later, when he arrived at court in lower Manhattan, he said to NBC 4 New York, "I attacked no one."
It wasn't immediately known if he had an attorney.
Mitchell was picked up near the park at 77th Street and Amsterdam Avenue by three rookie police officers patrolling the area at about 7:20 p.m. Wednesday, hours after the attack, Browne said. The officers held him until investigators from the special victims unit arrived.
Police initially held Mitchell on a charge of threatening a man inside Central Park on Aug. 20 as they waited to see if the woman could identify him as her attacker in Wednesday's incident.
The victim in the Aug. 20 case, a man, told police the suspect threatened him with a large knife inside the park. When police released photos of the suspect while searching for him Wednesday, the male victim recognized him as the man who threatened him several weeks ago.
Mitchell was charged with menacing in connection with that incident.
Detectives requested a warrant for Mitchell's DNA as well as a warrant to view images on a digital camera memory chip they found on him. He has an extensive criminal record in Virginia and was released in March 2011 after spending about seven years in state prison on a kidnapping charge. He was acquitted of murder and sex assault charges in a separate case in 1989.
A man who answered the phone at Mitchell's last known address in Henrico, Va. said he didn't know the suspect, who had tattoos of the grim reaper, castles, Nordic warriors and dragons inked all over his body.
Investigators said Mitchell was known as "Keith'' in the park and had been haunting the Ramble and other locations extensively the past few months. It's not clear how long he had been in New York.
The victim in Wednesday's attack told police she had seen her attacker before, and believed he assaulted her near Strawberry Field's Wednesday morning because he was angry she photographed him exposing himself in a more isolated area of the park a week earlier.
Investigators have obtained those photos from the victim's computer. That encounter was never reported to police.
She told investigators the man asked, "Do you remember me?" before raping her. The victim told the New York Post he jumped on her back, pummeled her, grabbed her throat and threatened to cut her jugular when she screamed.
On Thursday, the woman said she's on edge, but mostly enraged by the attack. Vowing to return to the park where she loves to watch birds, she condemned her attack and said she hoped he spent the rest of his life behind bars.
"Kill him. Cut off his penis. That's fine,'' she told the Post. "Cut off his feet, then hit him over the head. Then give him life in prison.''
Strawberry Fields is one of Central Park's busiest spots. It was named after the Beatles song "Strawberry Fields Forever" and was officially dedicated in 1985, five years after Mark David Chapman fired five shots outside the nearby Dakota apartment house on Dec. 8, 1980, killing Lennon.
Although the popular park is considered safe and there have been few reported crimes there in the past several years, there have been some headline-grabbing exceptions.
On April 19, 1989, a 28-year-old investment banker was found after being attacked while jogging on April 19, 1989. She became known worldwide as "the Central Park jogger."
She was in a coma for 12 days before beginning her near-miraculous recovery. The jogger, Trisha Meili, disclosed her identity in 2003 and published her memoir.
"My heart was just aching when I saw it in the headlines," Meili told the The Associated Press in a phone interview on Thursday.
"I want to send loving thoughts of healing to this woman and let her know that thousands are thinking about her and sending prayers for her vibrant spirit ... to move forward from this horrible violation," she said.
Meili, who no longer lives in the New York City area, still jogs and is even back in Central Park from time to time.
"There are wonderful things that happen in that park, too," she said.