New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill publicly apologized Sunday to a woman who was raped in a Brooklyn park in 1994 — a case that a columnist once dubbed a possible “hoax” and only cracked after DNA linked a serial rapist to the incident earlier this year.
O’Neill, in a letter published on the NYPD’s website, said the department “let her down in almost every possible way” during the investigation into the 1994 Prospect Park rape. Authorities identified the suspect as James Edward Webb in January after his DNA matched those found on material collected at the scene.
“The survivor of the 1994 Prospect Park rape case suffered a terrible ordeal when she was brutally violated,” O’Neill wrote in the letter.
“This woman's pain was only made worse by our collective actions, which were and always will be wholly antithetical to the values of the NYPD,” he added. “She had the courage and strength to report a heinous crime, to push our detectives to conduct a full and thorough investigation, and to try to help apprehend her attacker and protect other women. But we let her down in almost every possible way.”
The woman told police she was walking through Prospect Park with her groceries when her attacker, carrying a large stick or cane, raped her next to a tree and demanded cash.
Her credibility, however, was questioned when New York Daily News columnist Mike McAlary accused her of making up the rape to promote a rally she had organized to protest violence against gays and lesbians. The story was titled “Rape hoax the real crime.”
“There is zero justification for the additional trauma she endured when her word was doubted by authorities investigating her claim, and a writer for a major New York City daily newspaper, who — citing unnamed NYPD sources — predicted in print that she would soon be arrested for filing a false report,” O’Neill wrote Sunday.
The woman, now 52, sued McAlary and the New York Daily News, but a judge dismissed the libel suit “after finding that [Mike] McAlary accurately reported what his police sources told him,” according to an article in the New York tabloid’s archives.
Martin Garbus, the rape survivor’s lawyer, told the New York Daily News on Sunday that his client is “grateful” for the apology.
“She never believed that she would see the day that there would be such a full and complete apology,” Garbus said. “It’s unfortunate that it [the letter] didn’t go further and highlight the people in the police department that allowed this to happen.”
Webb was already serving a sentence of 75 years to life at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining when authorities linked him to the 1994 rape. Webb, described as a serial rapist, was convicted of sexually assaulting four women in 1995.
“I am grateful, too, for the improved forensic technology that, in the intervening years, has now allowed us to affirm — at long last, and beyond the shadow of a doubt — that the Prospect Park survivor absolutely told the truth,” O’Neill wrote in his apology.
The New York Daily News also published an editorial in January that said McAlary, who died in 1998, and his police sources were “wrong, terribly wrong.”
“We know this to be true, and must say it without any doubt: Jane Doe was raped in Prospect Park on April 26, 1994,” the editorial stated.
Fox News' Greg Norman contributed to this report.