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Former IMF leader pleads not guilty to sex assault

NEW YORK (AP) - The former International Monetary Fund head
charged with trying to rape a Manhattan hotel maid formally said he
was innocent of the charges Monday in his first court appearance in
the case in two weeks.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn pleaded not guilty in a strong voice at
the brief proceeding, standing between his defense team as his
wife, journalist Anne Sinclair, watched.
State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus went through the
formality of telling Strauss-Kahn he needed to appear in court and
had a right to be present at his trial, to which the economist said
"yes."
The French diplomat appeared in court for the first time since
he was released on $6 million in cash bail and bond last month. He
has been under house arrest that includes 24-hour monitors and
armed guards, first in a downtown Manhattan apartment and now in a
deluxe, $50,000-a-month Tribeca town house.
About 50 hotel workers bused in by their union gathered outside
the courthouse to jeer Strauss-Kahn, many wearing their work
uniforms. They shouted "shame on you" as he arrived, and again as
he left in a black sport-utility vehicle.
The accuser "is a hard-working woman who was just doing her
job," said Wendy Baranello, a hotel union organizer. "It's
outrageous."
The protesters wanted to send the message that "New York is the
wrong place to mess with a hotel worker," said Aissata Bocum, a
Ramada Inn housekeeper.
After the brief court appearance, Strauss-Kahn's attorney Ben
Brafman said by the end of the case, "it will be clear that there
was no element of forcible compulsion in this case whatsoever. Any
suggestion to the contrary is simply not credible."
Brafman's similar comments at an earlier court hearing have led
to speculation that the defense will argue the encounter was
consensual. He repeated again Monday that he and co-counsel William
Taylor would not be commenting on the specifics of the case.
"We will defend this case in the courtroom," he said, urging
there not be a rush to judgment.
But the maid's attorney, Kenneth Thompson, said she would
testify in court and condemned speculation that she either made up
the attack or exaggerated the claims.
"The victim wants you to know that all of Dominique
Strauss-Kahn's power, money and influence throughout the world will
not keep the truth about what he did to her in that hotel room from
coming out," Thompson said.
The Associated Press generally does not identify accusers in sex
crime cases unless they agree to it.
Thompson said the 32-year-old woman has not worked since the
encounter because she is traumatized. And she will not settle the
case or back down.
"She is standing up for women around the world sexually
assaulted who are too afraid to come forward," he said.
The hearing, which lasted about five minutes, was an
arraignment, a standard proceeding in U.S. courts where the
defendant is formally advised of the charges and is given the
chance to plead. The attorneys also briefly discussed the handing
over of potential evidence in the case. They said in a court filing
that they wanted access to police reports, forensic tests, and any
statements made by the prosecution to any prospective witness in
the case. The also asked for details on any promises made by
prosecutors to prospective players in the case, and whether any
civil action has been taken. Often the accuser will sue the suspect
in civil court for monetary damage. The woman's attorney did not
comment Monday on whether a civil suit was planned.
After Strauss-Kahn's arrest, authorities seized several cell
phones, his iPad and Apple computer, and defense attorneys were
worried about "sensitive and confidential" material on the
gadgets, plus phone messages left since his arrest that the
district attorney's office should not hear, they said.
Prosecutors have several weeks to answer the defense demands,
and the defense requests do not mean the prosecution has made any
deals or promises. Strauss-Kahn's next court date was set for July
18.
The case has been intensely followed around the world, spawning
news reports even about food deliveries to the home where
Strauss-Kahn is staying. His arrest rocked France, where he had
been considered a potential contender in next year's presidential
elections, and shook up the IMF. He resigned amid the scandal, and
proclaimed his innocence in a letter to staff. The powerful lending
organization has yet to name his replacement.
The hearing was the top story on French front pages and
broadcasts Monday.
"DSK: D-Day" headlined French newspaper Le Figaro, suggesting
the routine hearing was a pivotal moment in the case. It was also a
reference to Monday's 67th anniversary of the U.S.- and British-led
invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, known as D-Day, which helped
free France from the Nazi grip in World War II.
French media published primers about the U.S. legal system,
which differs in many aspects from France's - including the
American jury trial or the condition of "beyond a reasonable
doubt" for any conviction in the case.
Strauss-Kahn was arraigned on charges of attempted rape, sex
abuse, a criminal sex act, unlawful imprisonment and forcible
touching. The most serious charge carries a maximum term of five to
25 years in prison.
The 62-year-old had been staying at the Sofitel, near Times
Square in Manhattan, in a $3,000-a-night suite. He was scheduled to
check out the day of the encounter.
The maid, a West African widow and mother of a 15-year-old girl,
told police Strauss-Kahn chased her down a hallway in his Sofitel
hotel suite May 14, tried to pull down her pantyhose and forced her
to perform oral sex.
Prosecutors said last month that evidence against Strauss-Kahn
was building by the day. Tests have found Strauss-Kahn's DNA
matched material on the woman's uniform shirt, people familiar with
the investigation told the AP.
But Brafman told a judge May 16 that the defense believed any
forensic evidence "will not be consistent with a forcible
encounter."
And in a letter to prosecutors last month, Brafman and fellow
Strauss-Kahn lawyer William W. Taylor said they had - but wouldn't
yet release - information that "would seriously undermine the
quality of this prosecution and also gravely undermine the
credibility of the complainant in this case."
The woman's attorneys said outside court that an attempt to
smear her name would not be tolerated.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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