Penthouse Retrospective

by Alan M. Dershowitz Originally Published: May, 1993

Mike Tyson

Mike Tyson was convicted of rape on the basis of testimony that we believe we can now prove was known to be false and incomplete by the prosecutors. Indeed, we believe the prosecutors themselves played an active role in misleading the jurors and in keeping the true story from them.

The Rape of Mike Tyson

Mike Tyson SmilingHad the jurors known what we now know – and what we contend the prosecutors knew all along – they would have acquitted Mike Tyson. Indeed, at least five of the jurors have recently urged that Tyson be given a new trial, at which the false evidence that was presented to them can be corrected, and the excluded evidence can be submitted to a new jury.

I am one of the attorneys working for Tyson on his appeal, so naturally I have very strong feelings about his situation. But I am also confident that as you read this article, presenting the facts and arguments which have been urged in briefs to the Indiana Court of Appeals, you will become as outraged as I am about such a gross miscarriage of justice.

As one of the jurors put it, “We [the jurors] felt that a man raped a woman …. In hindsight, it [now] looks like a woman raped a man.” Another juror, Rose Pride, now believes that Desiree Washington, the pageant contestant who accused Tyson of raping her, “has committed a crime.” On the basis of new information, which was kept from the jury during the trial, Ms. Pride has concluded that Washington “isn’t the innocent young girl presented in court.”

Two other jurors recently called me out of the blue to tell me that after hearing about this new evidence, they also believe that Tyson deserves a new trial, and they doubt they would have voted to convict if they had known the whole truth about Desiree Washington. And a fifth juror appeared on the Maury Povich show to tell the world that he, too, would have voted for an acquittal had he known then what he knows now.

WHAT THE JURY HEARD

In order to understand why these jurors are now having second thoughts about their verdict, we must go back to the trial itself and see how Desiree Washington was presented to the jury and to the world at large. Remember that during the trial she did not allow her name or face to be revealed. She was portrayed as a shy, young, inexperienced, religious schoolgirl who wanted nothing more than to put this whole unpleasant tragedy behind her. Her family had hired a lawyer for the express purpose of helping to “ward off the media” because she did not want any publicity. She had no plans to sue Tyson, and she had certainly not hired a lawyer for that purpose. When she and her family were asked whether they had a “contingency” fee agreement with any lawyer – the kind of agreement traditionally made with lawyers who are contemplating a money suit for damages – they all claimed to not even know what that term meant. When Desiree’s mother was asked at the deposition whether there had ever been any “discussions” with lawyers about fees, she said no, and she swore under oath that there were no “written documents relating to the relationship between you and [the lawyer who was supposed to ward off the media].”

Thus, as one of the jurors later put it, “When she [Washington] said [on Barbara Walters] she wasn’t looking to get any money, [I believed her and] thought then that we made the right decision.” Another juror agreed, saying that at the trial “she was very credible” because she had no motive to lie, since she was not intending to collect any money or to benefit in any way from Tyson’s conviction.

In addition to portraying herself as an altruistic victim whose only goal was to see to it that Mike Tyson received the treatment he needed, Desiree Washington was also portrayed – with the complicity of the prosecutor – as an inexperienced girl before she met Tyson. She testified that she was a devout Christian, an “innocent, almost naive” girl, according to the prosecutor. She knew how to “handle the hometown boys” if they even dared to try to cop a “quick feel,” and return from the date as “the same girl,” suggesting Washington did not even neck or pet.

Is Mike Tyson really stupid enough to force himself on a woman? In the moral minefield of an athlete rape controversy, the most difficult decision might be whether or not to challenge the victim.