Strauss-Kahn NYC court date postponed to Aug. 23

July 27, 2011 9:17:43 AM PDT
The court date that could determine the fate of the sexual assault charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn was postponed Tuesday for more than three weeks as prosecutors kept evaluating a case rocked by their doubts about his accuser's credibility, and then roiled by her public pressure on them to keep pursuing it.

Lawyers for the former International Monetary Fund leader said Tuesday they'd agreed to put off the Aug. 1 date to Aug. 23 to give Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. more time to investigate, as they did weeks ago in agreeing to postpone a date once set for July 18. But they underscored Tuesday that they were looking forward to an answer soon on what prosecutors plan to do.

"We hope that by August 23 he will have reached the decision to dismiss" the case, said the attorneys, Benjamin Brafman and William W. Taylor. Strauss-Kahn denies the attempted rape and other charges.

The DA's office declined to comment on the investigation.

Prosecutors have shown signs that they are conducting an extensive probe that could take some time.

Still, the relatively short postponement, by courthouse standards, could signal they are at least nearing a decision.

It suggests they are "coming to some kind of conclusion," said Marcellus McRae, a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles who is now a criminal defense lawyer in Washington.

The date change comes in a tumultuous week for the already dramatic case: Strauss-Kahn's accuser, Nafissatou Diallo, broke her silence in recent days with interviews in Newsweek and on a series of ABC News programs. Her lawyer, Kenneth P. Thompson, didn't immediately respond to messages Tuesday.

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Prosecutors told a judge July 1 that they were re-evaluating the case because her lies and inconsistencies had weakened it. In response, Diallo's lawyer accused the DA's office of turning its back on her and called for a special prosecutor.

While Diallo used her media platform to press for prosecutors to keep going with the case - "I want him to go to jail," she told the interviewers - her decision to go public may make it harder for them to do so, legal experts say. As the key witness in a prospective trial, she has now made public statements that defense lawyers could scour for any discrepancies with her grand jury testimony or other records. They already have used the interviews to suggest that she is fanning the flames of public attention to try to cash in with a civil suit; her lawyer told ABC News she plans to file one.

In the interviews, Diallo gave a detailed account of her version of the May 14 encounter. She said the former IMF leader grabbed her, ignored her pleas to stop, pulled her dress up and her pantyhose down, grabbed her crotch and forced her to perform oral sex.

Strauss-Kahn's lawyers have said anything that happened wasn't forced. In a segment broadcast Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America," she said she "never, ever" gave consent.

Diallo also addressed some of the untruths prosecutors have said she told. What they say are conflicting versions of her movements right after leaving Strauss-Kahn's room are the result of a "misunderstanding," she said in Tuesday's "Good Morning America" piece.

Prosecutors also have said the 32-year-old fabricated aspects of her life story, including a story of having been gang-raped in her native Guinea that she told as part of her application for asylum in the U.S. and repeated to them. She told interviewers she had been raped under other circumstances and in general had made "mistakes," but they shouldn't keep prosecutors from pressing ahead with the case.

The DA's office declined to comment on her remarks.

For now, prosecutors' investigation seems to be becoming, if anything, more complex. After meeting last week with a lawyer for a French writer who has accused Strauss-Kahn of trying to rape her in 2003, Manhattan prosecutors are now seeking to speak to writer Tristane Banon herself. Strauss-Kahn denies that allegation.

The Associated Press does not generally name accusers in sexual assault cases unless they agree to be named or identify themselves publicly, as Diallo and Banon have done.

Prosecutors also are expected to try to reinterview Diallo for the first time since late June.

In the meantime, Strauss-Kahn, 65, remains free without bail, though unable to leave the United States.

For his lawyers, it's smart strategy to let prosecutors have more time to weigh the case, rather than insisting they either drop the case or put it on a path toward trial now, other defense attorneys said.

"The idea is to allow as much face-saving time as possible. If you force their hand, you inject ego back into it, and people's backs stiffen," McRae said.

Patience with the Manhattan DA's office paid off this year for a man whom police accused of shooting at officers and prompting them to fire a deadly barrage of bullets in response as they tried to clear a crowd after a Harlem block party. A grand jury ultimately cleared the man, Angel Alvarez, of all criminal charges in March after a months-long investigation with his lawyers' assent.

"It's sort of giving (prosecutors) the benefit of the doubt that they are going to fully investigate it, and once they do, they are going to come to the same conclusion that you have," said one of the lawyers, Zachary Johnson.

Whatever the outcome for Strauss-Kahn, the case already has had heavy consequences for him. He resigned his IMF post after his arrest, and he is sidelined as France prepares for an election next year in which the Socialist Strauss-Kahn had been seen as a leading potential challenger to conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Associated Press writers Tom Hays and Colleen Long contributed to this report.

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