NBC 4 New York
Police have arrested a suspect in connection with the violent sexual assault of a 73-year-old birdwatcher in Central Park. Gus Rosendale has more.
The suspect in the violent rape of a 73-year-old birdwatcher in Central Park Wednesday appeared in court early Friday morning, and is currently being held without bail, authorities said.
David Albert Mitchell, 42, was identified by the victim in a lineup at the special victims unit Thursday afternoon, police said. 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 told NBC 4 New York, "I attacked no one."
Mitchell -- whose body is covered with tattoos of the grim reaper, castles, Nordic warriors and dragons -- 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, said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne. The officers held him until investigators from the special victims unit arrived.
The victim in Wednesday's rape told police she 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.
She told investigators the man asked, "Do you remember me?" before raping her.
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.
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, that man recognized him as the knife-wielding 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.
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.
Investigators have obtained the photos the victim took in the earlier incident from her computer. That encounter was never reported to police.
The victim told the New York Post that on Wednesday, he jumped on her back, pummeled her, grabbed her throat and threatened to cut her jugular when she screamed.
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 attacker 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.