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A Crushing Verdict
William Nack
February 17, 1992
An Indianapolis jury, after deliberating 10 hours, convicted Mike Tyson of raping an 18-year-old beauty-pageant contestant
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February 17, 1992

A Crushing Verdict

An Indianapolis jury, after deliberating 10 hours, convicted Mike Tyson of raping an 18-year-old beauty-pageant contestant

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The hour had come at last, and with it the final silence that so many had been awaiting since the proceedings had begun two weeks before. It was 10:52 on Monday night, and the scene in Courtroom 4 of Marion County Superior Court was frozen into an eerie diorama. The lawyers sat staring fixedly into space. The jurors gazed blankly across the white light of the room. And Don King, carrying a Bible, sat as still as a statue in the front row of the spectator section.

At the very center of it all, with the corners of his mouth turned down and his eyebrows furrowed, Mike Tyson sat motionless at the defense table. It had been here, in this courtroom, that the central drama of Tyson's life had been played out. It had been here that the former heavyweight champion of the world had watched as the state of Indiana built a compelling case that he had raped a college-bound 18-year-old last July 19 in room 606 of Indianapolis's Canterbury Hotel. And it had been here that he had watched as his $5,000-a-day attorney, Vincent Fuller, fumbled his way through a closing argument. At one point Judge Patricia Gifford had to remind Fuller that an exhibit he was seeking to display to the jury—a floor plan of room 606—had never been officially admitted into evidence; he could not use it. And it had been here that Tyson acquiesced as Fuller took the extraordinary gamble of not only putting him on the stand, but also of depicting him as a notorious sexual predator in an attempt to persuade the jury that the accuser should have known better than to go out with him and accompany him to his room. In effect, Fuller asked the jury to believe that Tyson was so sexually ravenous that no woman would go out with him except to have sex but not so ravenous that he would commit rape. It was a tough sell.

Now all of that was done, and the man widely regarded as the toughest fighter on the planet (see following story) took one deep breath as bailiff Ed Atwood turned and carried three white sheets of paper from the jury foreman to Gifford. The judge riffled through the papers and began reading:

"We the jury find the defendant, Michael G. Tyson, guilty of the crime of rape...." Tyson's head snapped back slightly, but his face betrayed no emotion. Gifford then read verdicts of guilty on two counts of deviate sexual behavior. At 25 and not yet in his physical prime, the most lucrative drawing card in boxing history now faced a maximum of 60 years in prison, though he is likely to serve between three and six years. Gifford set a sentencing date of March 6, at which time she could permit Tyson to remain out of jail pending his appeal—a process that could take a year. There will be those seeking to have Tyson fight while his appeal is considered. But it would be inconceivable for any jurisdiction to license him after a conviction for such a heinous felony.

Responding to Fuller's plea that Tyson was "a celebrity with no place to go," Gifford allowed Tyson to remain free on $30,000 bond. All that Gifford required was that Tyson surrender his passport. King pulled it out of his black leather shoulder bag. "Here it is," King said, and turned it in.

Hours earlier, in his summation to the jury, prosecutor Greg Garrison had pounded on the major elements of Tyson's defense. Garrison's presentation was masterly, as it had to be. So-called acquaintance-rape cases are difficult to win; because of the absence of eyewitnesses, these cases boil down to which principal witness, the accused or the accuser, is more persuasive. In his efforts to cast reasonable doubt on the complainant's account, Fuller argued in his summation that Tyson's accuser, who had come to Indianapolis to compete in the Miss Black America pageant, was a gold digger. He also contended that Tyson, who was in town to attend the Indiana Black Expo, was telling the truth when he testified that, after the young woman had consensual sex with him in his hotel room, she spurned his invitation to spend the rest of the night with him.

In his closing argument Garrison mocked the defense's contentions. He proclaimed the gold-digger argument "a ridiculous fairy tale," pointing out that if the young woman had truly been after Tyson's wealth, she would have accepted his invitation to spend the night as a prelude to a more enduring relationship.

Before closing arguments began, Garrison sensed that he had the momentum. Seeing the accuser sitting with her mother—the young woman had returned for the closing arguments, her first appearance in court since her testimony ended on Jan. 31—Garrison approached her and took her hand. "The fight's over for you," he said. "So just loosen up. We kicked his ass."

As it turned out, Garrison was accurate in his reading of a trial that had twisted like a slalom course, cresting in its first week with the accuser's wrenching account of the alleged rape and cresting again in the second week with Tyson setting forth his version of the same events. Fuller's decision to have Tyson take the stand was risky, though the lawyer obviously concluded that it was a gamble he had to take. In addition to the accuser's account, the defense had to overcome the testimony of Tyson's limousine driver, who described in detail how the accuser had rushed in agitation and disarray from the hotel after the rape, and that of the victim's mother. At least two jurors had tears in their eyes as they listened to the woman relate how the alleged attack had become her daughter's recurring nightmare.

Garrison ended the state's presentation by playing a tape recording of the accuser's call to 911, in which she reported the assault approximately 24 hours after she had left Tyson's room. All the jurors had listened raptly as the young woman was heard describing how Tyson had raped her.

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