The Brooklyn district attorney alerted the court Thursday that he would not make the initial deadline to obtain indictments against four of the five teenagers arrested on suspicion of raping an 18-year-old woman at a Brownsville playground earlier this month. As such, those suspects are to be released without bail.
Three of the defendants, the New York Times reports, had already made bail on Thursday when Ken Thompson, the Brooklyn district attorney, called their families to alert them to the suspects’ release. (In New York, prosecutors have less than a week to obtain a grand-jury indictment after a suspect is arrested on a felony charge. If they cannot, suspects are released, and prosecutors have six months to obtain an indictment.)
Denzel Murray, 14; Ethan Phillip, 15; and Travis Beckford, 17; and Onandi Brown, 17, were to be freed on Thursday. Shaquell Cooper, 15, will remain in jail, as he faces a pending, unrelated assault charge.
“Because we are determined to get to the truth about what happened in that park, we need more time to investigate this complex case and gather more evidence,” Thompson said in a statement. “So, therefore, we have consented to the defendants’ release.”
At first, police said that, on January 7, five men approached the woman and her father at Osborn Playground, threatening them with a gun, before raping her, after forcing him to leave. It was not long, however, before a more convoluted account began to coalesce. Two of the teens said that they’d seen the woman having sex with her father, and that their sex with her was consensual.
“The first story is never the last story,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said Thursday. “I think in this case that’s certainly the case or will prove to be the case.” He confirmed that detectives were reviewing cell phone footage of the incident taken by one of the teens.
“It’s 9 to 11 seconds I believe it’s been retrieved from one of the cell phones of the young men being investigated in this matter,” he said. “It is a significant piece of evidence as we try to piece together what happened.” Detectives are still awaiting results of a rape kit, Bratton said.
Further complicating matters, the New York Daily News reports that neither the woman nor her father were able to pick any of the accused teenagers out of a lineup. “The case is getting weaker by the minute,” Onandi Brown’s lawyer, Spencer Leeds, told DNAinfo. He went on:
Leeds claimed the young woman has recanted her accusation and the lawyer cast doubt that the father is biologically related to her. The attorney also suggested that the father’s behavior in the incident seems to disprove that she was raped.
The dad, who had only recently reconnected with the young woman who was sent to a foster home when she was 2, eventually found NYPD officers who returned to the scene with him after the teens had fled, police said.
“Everything that’s been happening so far seems to point in the direction of innocence,” Denzel Murray’s lawyer, Kenneth Montgomery, told the Times. “They have a lot of due diligence to figure out exactly what happened.”
“You wish, if you’re a defendant, that some of those things would’ve been taken care of prior to the arrest, but there’s still time for the district attorney to do the right thing.”