Prosecutors on Tuesday dropped all charges against a group of men who were accused of sexually abusing a young woman from an ultra-religious Jewish sect and forcing her to become a prostitute.
The case was dismissed by a Brooklyn judge amid questions about whether prosecutors withheld evidence suggesting the men were not guilty. The charges were brought last June in an indictment that claimed two of the men first met the girl in 2003 when she was 13, and that they raped her and then began forcing her into having sex for money. The four men pleaded not guilty to charges including rape and sex trafficking, and claimed the woman was a willing participant and denied the allegations.
The case was shocking not only because of the girl's age, but because she was a member of the ultra-religious Chabad Lubavitch community and the men were black. The two groups live side-by-side in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, which was the site of race riots involving blacks and Jews in 1991, but they rarely interact. Racial tensions have occasionally flared in later years, but never on as violent a scale.
Two of the men, Damien Crooks and Darrell Dula, were previously released from prison and appeared in court Tuesday. Dula, 25, told reporters his time behind bars was traumatizing and he was overjoyed the case was dropped. Crooks, 32, said he forgave the woman, and that he had a consensual relationship with her.
The other two men, brothers Jamali and Jawara Brockett, ages 27 and 33, remained in prison Tuesday on unrelated charges. Attorney Kleon Andreadis, who represented Jamali Brockett, said his client was happy the case was dismissed. "He always maintained he didn't know her," Andreadis said.
In April, the district attorney's office said it had not turned over evidence — including a diary that discussed the young woman's relationship with Crooks, and a police report in which she appeared to have recanted some of her story. Defense attorneys filed a motion to dismiss, and the former head of the sex-crimes unit resigned in June.
District Attorney Charles Hynes said that once his office finished reviewing all the documents in the case, it became clear it was no longer viable to prosecute.
"We understand the frustration of the family of the victim," he said. "If it is any consolation, our office has made the prosecution of sex traffickers a high priority even though many cases are difficult because the sole witness is usually the victim."
The father of the woman, now 22, issued a lengthy statement Tuesday condemning the dismissal of the case, made against the woman's will.
He said any instance of recanting came because she had been a victim of "traumatic bonding," and that she had been hospitalized for years because of the trauma.
"We hoped that this case would shed light upon the legal and psychological issues that accompany this devastating crime," he said.
Instead, they were turned out in the cold by prosecutors unwilling to move forward with the case, the father said. He said that they have had to leave the community as a result of the case, and his daughter is badly damaged.
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Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York