"Short of my case getting overturned on appeal, my client's life is over," attorney Ephraim Savitt said about former cop Michael Pena, 28, who, following a judge's sentencing Monday, is now on course to be 103 years old by the time he gets out of prison.
"He's at least as shocked as I am by this sentence," a visibly stunned Savitt said about Pena, who was fired from the NYPD shortly after his arrest in this case last August.
Pena admitted, during his trial two months ago, that he used his NYPD-issued semiautomatic pistol to force a 25 year-old teacher down a narrow passageway between two buildings and into a secluded courtyard in Inwood in Northern Manhattan. The victim had been on her way to her first day ever teaching at-risk children. Pena sexually assaulted her, but a jury deadlocked over the charge of rape, a class B felony.
At sentencing on Monday, Pena's victim made an approximately 90-second statement, saying about the effect of the August 2011 sexual assault, "My sense of security, my sense of safety, my sense of independence, every single aspect of my life, it's affected me. It's hard for me," she continued, "to do anything in my life," adding that she now lives with her parents because she doesn't feel safe living alone.
Also, for the first time, Pena himself spoke in court. "I'm sorry for my actions and the hurt I caused her and her family and friends," the three-year veteran cop said in a voice so low it was barely audible, even though he spoke into a microphone whose sound was amplified throughout the courtroom.
Pena took lengthy pauses between his few, almost whispered statements. "I'd like to go back in time," he said softly. "I'd not have hurt her. I'll always carry shame and a burden for what I did."
Adding that he had "no explanation for what happened that day," he said, "I deserve to be punished."
Pena received his punishment, delivered from the bench. Judge Richard Carruthers told Pena that not only did he not deserve the title "New York's Finest," the cop who pursued Pena after neighbors called 911 on him threw to the ground the police shield the off-duty officer was carrying in his pocket when he got arrested.
The judge also praised Officer Pena's victim. "She did all that she could to to save her life," he said from the dais above and in front of his courtroom. "She retained all the details [of the attack against her]," he said, "and she endured coming into a public forum to provide cogent testimony. Through her persistence and character, her conduct is praiseworthy," Judge Carruthers said. By contrast, he added, "For Michael Pena, there is scorn."
Then he meted out his sentence: a mandatory minimum of 25 years to life to be served consecutively for three charges each of criminal sex assault and predatory sexual assault -- a Class A felony. In other words, ex-cop Michael Pena will spend the next 75 years in prison, with no chance for parole.
"When you consider life expectancy for people behind bars," Pena's lawyer, Ephraim Savitt, said, in a news conference on the courthouse steps afterward, "We're talking about a life sentence."
After the trial jury in Pena's case deadlocked on the rape charges he had faced, many people, from women's rights activists to regular citizens, cried out that justice had not been served. With Judge Carruthers's sentence, the person now calling for justice is Pena's attorney.
"There are terrorists and mass murderers getting less time than my client," Savitt said. "So yes, we're shocked about this."
Savitt, who has known Pena since the ex-cop was a teen (Pena's father is the doorman in Savitt's West Side building, and Pena had filled in for his father on occasion), said he plans to appeal, but the Madison Avenue lawyer was not optimistic about his client's chances.
Also, the rape charges against Pena, on which the jury deadlocked, are scheduled to be re-tried. Savitt said that the Manhattan district attorney will seek a plea deal from the disgraced former officer. If that happens, Pena is likely to end up in prison for "slightly longer" than his current sentence, according to Savitt.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times