Crime and Courts
Chief investigative reporter Jonathan Dienst on crime, corruption and terrorism.

NYPD Officer Guilty of Sexual Assault, Jury Deadlocked on Rape Counts

The jury had been deliberating since last week.

A jury has found an off-duty NYPD officer guilty of sexual assault after he grabbed a schoolteacher off the street and attacked her, but is deadlocked on the rape counts against him.

Michael Pena was convicted on six counts, including predatory sexual assault, but the jury could not agree on the two charges of first-degree rape. They will continue to deliberate on those charges.

The victim had testified that Pena forced her into an apartment courtyard and raped her at gunpoint.

Pena's defense lawyer said Pena admits attacking the woman but never completed intercourse with her.

The victim sobbed in the courtroom as the partial verdict was read.

The predatory sexual assault charge carries the potential for life in prison.

Jurors had told the judge in a note late Tuesday morning that they remained stuck on the rape charges, and deliberations were becoming very contentious, defense lawyer Ephraim Savitt said.

"I understand there has been some discord that has developed in the course of your deliberations," state Supreme Court Justice Richard Carruthers told the jurors when the partial verdict was accepted. "That's natural in any difficult situation where difficult decisions must be made. Please, be respectful of one another."

During the closed-door discussions, one juror had criticized the investigation and mentioned to the panel that he knew Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., prompting another juror to complain to the court, Savitt said. It soon emerged that besides being socially acquainted with Vance, the first juror is a law partner of one of Vance's election opponents from 2009 — none of which was disclosed during jury selection, Savitt said.

The juror was questioned at the judge's bench, out of clear earshot of an audience packed with reporters, Pena's relatives and the woman's supporters.

The man said he hadn't mentioned knowing Vance or the opponent during jury selection because he felt none of the questions asked that, and because he didn't want to be seen as trying to shirk jury duty, Savitt said. Regardless, the juror said he'd been impartial during deliberations, according to Savitt.

"He says he's neutral, and I'm willing to accept that," he said.

The DA's office had no immediate comment. Three alternate jurors are available.

Pena, an officer for three years, has been suspended since his arrest. He was officially terminated Tuesday after his conviction of sexual assault.

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