NEW YORK – A former police officer who grabbed a schoolteacher off the street and sexually attacked her was sentenced Monday to at least three quarters of a century in prison after being convicted of high-level sex charges, though a jury couldn't decide whether he was guilty of rape.
After staying silent during his trial, Michael Pena apologized to the victim and said he deserved to be punished, though his lawyer later said Pena was shocked at getting 75 years to life, the maximum possible sentence for his conviction.
"If I could go back in time, to the day of this incident, and somehow grab myself by the shoulder. ... I have no explanation for what happened that day," Pena said softly, his remarks punctuated by long silences. "I will just have that guilt for the rest of my life."
Capping a trial that portrayed a hideous, sudden assault by an off-duty officer, the judge excoriated Pena as an embarrassment to police, while the woman said the attack — on her way to her first day of work at a new job — had destroyed her life.
"My life has been shattered — my sense of security, my sense of safety, any and all independence," she said, with a supporter by her side, holding her arm. She wept after she finished speaking.
A three-year officer who was engaged to be married, Pena was wrapping up an alcohol-soaked night of trying to pick up women when he accosted the teacher on an Upper Manhattan street early one morning last August, according to trial evidence.
She testified that Pena forced her into an apartment building courtyard and raped her at gunpoint, threatening to shoot her in the face with his police service weapon.
Pena's lawyer, Ephraim Savitt, said the officer attacked the woman but never had intercourse with her, a requirement for a rape conviction. The defense said the woman was so terrified that she was mistaken about the extent of what had transpired.
A resident of the building heard the attack and called police, who learned Pena was an officer only as they arrested him. One officer said he threw Pena's badge to the ground in disgust.
Pena "showed by his deplorable conduct that he is not one of New York's finest," Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Richard Carruthers said at the sentencing. "Michael Pena is, instead, a sexual predator."
Pena told authorities he was drunk and didn't remember what had happened. No tests were done, so his blood-alcohol level was never established. But the judge took aim at Pena's claim, noting that surveillance video captured Pena steadily trailing the woman, and that Pena tried to mislead witnesses and the responding officers about what was happening.
"The evidence proved conclusively that Michael Pena acted purposefully and intentionally throughout this dreadful incident," Carruthers said.
Jurors convicted Pena in March of some of the top charges in the case, including predatory sexual assault, an offense that involves wielding a weapon during certain sex crimes.
But jurors deadlocked on rape charges. Prosecutors are to say May 23 whether they plan to retry him on those charges.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. called Pena's 75-year-to-life term "an appropriate sentence that takes the viciousness of the defendant's crime into account." Vance's office had no immediate comment Monday on its plans regarding the remaining rape charges.
Meanwhile, Savitt said he was exploring a potential appeal for Pena.
While the attorney called Pena's sentence too severe, the local branch of the National Organization for Women hailed it as taking sexual violence seriously. About five NOW members came to court to show support for the teacher.
Pena was fired from the police force after his conviction.
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