NEW YORK — A New York City judge dismissed the sensational sexual assault case against former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn but put his order on hold while the accuser and her lawyer argue that a special prosecutor should be appointed. A decision was expected later Tuesday.
The decision to drop the charges in a case that has attracted global attention as a cauldron of sex, violence, power and politics had been widely expected after prosecutors filed court papers a day before arguing that they could not trust the word of the hotel housekeeper accusing the French diplomat of attempted rape.
Strauss-Kahn arrived at court in a six-car motorcade and was greeted by protesters wielding signs carrying such messages as "DSK treats women like property" and "Put the rapist on trial — not the victim." Even inside the courtroom, shouting could be heard.
He appeared resolute in the courtroom, wearing a dark gray suit, blue shirt and a navy-and-gold striped tie, smiling and shaking hands with an audience member and his wife, journalist Anne Sinclair, sitting nearby. They left court without speaking to reporters but read a statement shortly afterward.
"These past two and a half months have been a nightmare for me and my family," he said. "I want to thank all the friends in France and in the United States who have believed in my innocence, and to the thousands of people who sent us their support personally and in writing. I am most deeply grateful to my wife and family who have gone through this ordeal with me. ...
"We will have nothing further to say about this matter and we look forward to returning to our home and resuming something of a more normal life," he said.
He reiterated a statement in French outside the posh townhouse where he was held under house arrest for much of the summer.
During the brief appearance in Manhattan State Supreme Court, Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon formally recommended the case be dismissed.
"Our inability to believe the complainant beyond a reasonable doubt means, in good faith, that we could not ask a jury to do that," she said.
State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus said he wouldn't dismiss the case until an appeals decision, expected later Tuesday, on whether a special prosecutor should be appointed. Shortly before the dismissal ruling, Obus had denied the request to appoint a special prosecutor, saying there was nothing that would disqualify Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance from heading the case.
The maid from the West African nation of Guinea claimed that the onetime French presidential contender attacked her and sexually assaulted her when she arrived to clean his luxury suite May 14. When prosecutors brought charges, they touted their evidence as strong but later noted that DNA evidence didn't prove a forced encounter. Strauss-Kahn has denies the maid's allegations along.
The 33-year-old maid, Nafissatou Diallo, has sued Strauss-Kahn and came forward in a series of interviews with media after it became clear prosecutors were losing faith in her credibility. The Associated Press does not usually name people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly, as she has done.
On the streets of Guinea's capital, Conakry, and on its airwaves and on the editorial pages of its major newspapers, opinions were mixed. A small and unscientific sample indicated that women tended to back Diallo, while men questioned her version of events.
"Since the beginning of time, the powerful have always won. Nafissatou Diallo didn't stand a chance against DSK," said Pepe Bimou, a computer programmer. "The only possible outcome was that she would lose."
The stakes were high for Strauss-Kahn, who resigned his IMF post, spent nearly a week behind bars and then spent possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for house arrest, as well as for Vance, who was handling the biggest case he has had during his 18 months in office.
Strauss-Kahn, who's 62 and married, was arrested after Diallo, said he chased her down, grabbed her crotch and forced her to perform oral sex.
There is no dispute that something happened in the room; DNA evidence showed his semen on her work clothes and prosecutors on Monday revealed additional details that lead them to believe a sexual encounter occurred.
Strauss-Kahn's attorneys argued it wasn't forced.
In Guinea, people identifying themselves as relatives expressed deep disappointment at the prosecutors' call to drop the case.
"I don't understand why the prosecutor in Manhattan made this decision," said her cousin Tidiane Diallo who owns a tea shack in Labe, near the village where Nafissatou was born. "I don't think my cousin lied about DSK. Maybe there is a still a chance that they will find a resolution to this problem. You can't tell Nafissatou Diallo to give up on the criminal case," he said.
Like many sexual assault cases, in which the accused and the accuser are often the only eyewitnesses, the Strauss-Kahn case hinges heavily on the maid's believability.
Early on, prosecutors stressed that Diallo had provided "a compelling and unwavering story" replete with "very powerful details" and buttressed by forensic evidence. The police commissioner said seasoned detectives had found her credible.
But then prosecutors said July 1 they'd found the maid had told them a series of troubling falsehoods, including a persuasive but phony account of having been gang-raped in her native Guinea. She said she was echoing a story she'd told to enhance her 2003 bid for political asylum, but there's no mention of it on her written application, prosecutors said in Monday's filing. She told interviewers she was raped in her homeland under other circumstances.
Prosecutors continued investigating, pushing a court hearing back so they could gather more evidence to determine whether they could proceed with the case, and said Monday they uncovered further damning information that lead them to believe they couldn't ask a jury to believe her story.
Diallo has maintained all along that she feared what would happen if she told them the truth about her asylum application, and that the events have been taken out of context, and do not change the fact that she was wrongly attacked by Strauss-Kahn.