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Smith Lawyers Target Rape Accuser’s Mental Health : Law: Defense contends that a ‘psychological disorder’ made the woman falsely accuse Kennedy’s nephew. Her medical records are sought.

THE WASHINGTON POST

William Kennedy Smith’s lawyers said Friday that the Palm Beach, Fla., woman who has accused the 30-year-old medical resident of rape has a “longstanding psychological disorder” that prompted her to charge him falsely.

The accusation was made in a 24-page document filed in Palm Beach Circuit Court before a hearing at which the defense sought the right to examine the alleged victim’s medical and mental health records.

The woman’s lawyers contend that release of such records would violate her privacy rights, but the defense said they are “crucial” to Smith’s ability to prove his innocence. Judge Mary E. Lupo did not rule on the issue.

The accusations about the woman’s mental health offered the first glimpse of Smith’s defense strategy. Until now, the nephew of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and his lawyers have said little about the woman’s allegations except to call them “a damnable lie.”

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The defense case appears to rest on the assertion that Smith and the woman had consensual sex at the Kennedy family’s estate in Palm Beach on March 30 and that, because of “lingering trauma as a result of having been sexually abused when she was 8 years of age,” she accused Smith of rape, according to the documents.

The defense papers also cited “the emotional impact” on the woman of “at least two abortions” and a miscarriage.

The woman, who turns 30 next week, told police in a sworn statement that she mistakenly called Smith “Michael” in her distraught state after the alleged rape. She told police that her father had abused her as a child.

On Friday, the defense noted that her stepfather’s name is Michael and contended that frequent “bizarre” behavior, including her apparent confusion about Smith’s name, was additional evidence of emotional problems.

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During the hearing, Assistant State Atty. Moira Lasch accused Smith’s attorneys, Roy E. Black and Mark Schnapp, of “picking the most inflammatory part” of the alleged victim’s background in their attempt to get “irrelevant” records about the woman’s past.

“There is no indication of aberrant psychological behavior on the part of the victim,” Lasch said.

Black noted that the woman was taking numerous prescription drugs, including antidepressants and tranquilizers, which may have “countered” detection of alcohol in her system at the time of the alleged incident. Subsequent blood tests showed none.

The woman has told authorities that, since a 1975 car crash in which her lower back and neck were severely injured, she has taken tranquilizers and other prescription drugs. The defense said Friday that witnesses have stated that she “abuses” these drugs.

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Advocates for women’s and victims’ rights often have complained that rape victims essentially are put on trial with the accused. They say this common defense strategy deters many women from reporting rapes.

“Who would want that kind of public surveillance of their life?” Bonnie J. Burger, president of the District of Columbia Rape Crisis Center, said of the questions being raised about the Florida woman.

When the defense “tries to find any little piece of evidence to discredit” the victim, even if “totally irrelevant,” it deters other women from reporting sexual assaults, Burger said.


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