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A Gruesome Account
William Nack
February 10, 1992
Mike Tyson's accuser told jurors at his Indianapolis rape trial of an evening of pain and terror
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February 10, 1992

A Gruesome Account

Mike Tyson's accuser told jurors at his Indianapolis rape trial of an evening of pain and terror

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Every day Mike Tyson sat impassively in Courtroom 4 of Marion County Superior Court in Indianapolis, listening mutely as the prosecution presented testimony and evidence to support its claim that he had raped an 18-year-old beauty contestant in a hotel room in that city last July 19. Every day, often twirling a pen between his teeth, he watched the lawyers preen. And every day, as the clock neared six o'clock, the 25-year-old former heavyweight champion of the world draped his overcoat on his massive frame—he must weigh 260 pounds these days, at least 40 above his lighting weight—and strode-out of the courthouse to the white Lincoln Town Car awaiting him, waving to the crowds as they shouted words of encouragement. "Not guilty!" they yelled. "Hang in there, champ!"

As his trial entered its second week on Monday, with Tyson expected to testify by midweek and the jury facing deliberations perhaps as early as Friday, Tyson was clearly in the fight of his life. Although his prospects could change by the time the defense rests, the strength of the case the prosecution made during the trial's first seven days made it seem possible that after the verdict, Tyson might leave the courtroom in handcuffs and leg irons through an underground tunnel that leads from the courthouse to the Marion County Jail a block away.

Tyson betrayed little emotion in the opening days of the trial, and only once did he seem genuinely uneasy. Last Thursday he was sitting at the defense table, his hands folded in front of him and his eyes down, when prosecutor Greg Garrison looked at Judge Patricia Gifford and made the announcement everyone had been waiting for. Tyson's eyes opened with an unmistakable start.

Using the full name of the woman Tyson is accused of raping, including her middle name of Lynn, Garrison said, "The state would call—— Lynn ——, Judge." In acquaintance-rape cases such as this, no other moment matches the one in which the accused finally faces his accuser—the first instant when, after months of legal maneuvering, the only two people who know the truth are together in open court. Now, more than six months after Tyson and his accuser had last been together, in room 606 of the Canterbury Hotel, the confrontation was at hand. As Garrison held open a side door leading into the courtroom, waiting for his witness to arrive, Tyson was 30 feet away, staring at the top of the table in front of him. He raised his eyes, glancing furtively at the open door, then quickly looked away. Several more times he stole nervous peeks at the doorway. When the petite college freshman stepped into view, looking somber in a gray suit over a white blouse, Tyson saw her but at once cast his glance back to the tabletop.

The tension of that moment was but prelude to emotions the young woman's six hours of gripping testimony would evoke. In an occasionally ghastly account of the events surrounding the 45 minutes she spent in Tyson's hotel room at the Canterbury, the former Miss Black America beauty contestant testified that Tyson grabbed her, stripped off her clothes and ultimately restrained and raped her on his bed. Twenty-five hours later, with the encouragement of her parents, she complained to the police. On Sept. 9 a Marion County grand jury indicted Tyson on one count of rape, two counts of deviate sexual conduct and one count of confinement. Tyson's defense is that after coming to his room, the young woman consented to have sex with him.

During those first seven days of jury selection and trial, the prosecution's scrambling team of relatively low-paid lawyers clearly outshone Tyson's side, a $2 million legal juggernaut led by celebrated Washington, D.C., attorney Vincent Fuller. In the early going Fuller and his defense team came across as awkward, even inept. During jury selection Fuller, standing stiffly behind a lectern that had been brought to the courtroom especially for him, questioned prospective jurors like an aging, occasionally fumbling professor quizzing a class of captive students. In sketching the broad outlines of the case that he would be making in Tyson's behalf, he used the most stilted language. "Do you appreciate that consent can be given impliedly or expressly?" he asked one man. The man responded with a puzzled look, so Fuller tried again: "Do you understand that the facts and circumstances between two people can give rise to express or implied consent?" The poor fellow nodded tentatively, seemingly unsure about what he was agreeing with. Fuller used the word implied so often and in so many contexts that he even asked one juror how long she had been "implied" in her job.

By contrast Garrison was folksy and engaging. In his opening statement to the jury, he roamed the well of the courtroom as he told a seamless, compelling story. He used no notes, and when he reached the point in his narrative at which the alleged rape took place, he leaned into the jury box. Sweeping his arm in a cutting downward motion, he described Tyson throwing the accuser onto the bed "like a rag doll." He talked of a "massive forearm" holding her down, and as he gave his version of how Tyson had lifted the young woman by her legs, he dramatically thrust his right hand high above his head.

When Fuller rose to address the jurors, he was as far from them as he could be without moving into the audience section of the courtroom. He riffled through his stack of notes, and needed two pairs of eyeglasses to find what he was looking for. Not that Fuller didn't score some points. Directing the jury's attention to two men who were sitting in the spectator section, Fuller identified them as lawyers hired by the accuser's family and said of them, "If Mr. Tyson is convicted, they will file a big lawsuit which stands to make [the accuser] a wealthy woman." The two lawyers, Ed Gerstein and David Hennessy, would not appear again in the courtroom.

Besides dealing with questions about the accuser's motives, the prosecution faced the difficult task of explaining to the jury what the young woman was doing in Tyson's bedroom at two in the morning. Toward that end Garrison guided the accuser through a recounting of the events of that night. Her testimony suggested a trusting, starry-eyed teenager who had foolishly allowed herself to be drawn out of her room at the Omni Severin Hotel, a block from the Canterbury, by a post-midnight phone call from Tyson in which he begged her to join him for a ride, saying he just wanted to talk.

The accuser had first met Tyson only 12 hours before at a promotion for the beauty pageant. "You're a nice Christian girl, right?" he said, according to her testimony. At one point, she said, he asked her out on a date and she replied, "Sure." He agreed to try to set up one of her roommates, beauty contestant Pasha Oliver, with singer Johnny Gill, who was with Tyson, so that they could double-date. She wrote down her hotel room number and gave it to Tyson. The accuser, a Sunday school teacher, said she noticed that Tyson was wearing a large pin on his shirt that said TOGETHER IN CHRIST.

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