A 24-year-old Huntington Beach woman who says she was handcuffed to a tree and raped by the man suspected in last week's beating death of a young woman outside a popular nightclub said Tuesday the slaying never would have occurred had Orange County prosecutors been more vigorous in pursuing her case.
"I feel like somebody is dead because of this," said the woman, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition that her name not be published. "I feel like this shouldn't have happened. He never should have been out on the streets so soon."
But Edward Patrick Morgan Jr., a three-time convicted rapist, was on the loose only 12 months after the Orange County district attorney's office declined to push for a fourth rape conviction, and opted instead to let parole officials send him back to prison for the one-year remainder of his term for rape No. 3.
Police now believe that Morgan savagely beat to death Leanora Annette Wong, 23, of Huntington Beach last Friday after meeting her at a bar. Police have called the 28-year-old Morgan "a predator" with a frightening history of sexual assaults.
Some law enforcement officials have likewise said Wong's death might have been avoided had authorities taken a harder stand on the March 22, 1993, rape complaint made against Morgan last year.
"It's terrible this happened," the woman who filed last year's complaint said Tuesday.
The district attorney's office looked into the woman's allegations but declined to prosecute the case on the grounds of insufficient evidence. Had they sought a rape conviction, Morgan--who already had one forcible and two statutory rape convictions--would have been facing as many as 12 years in prison. In light of Wong's murder, however, prosecutors now say they will take another look at the case with a view of possibly filing charges.
The woman who says Morgan raped her last year testified against him at his parole revocation hearing but said she was under the impression that he was being charged with rape, not just a parole violation.
"I didn't know what the procedures were," said the woman, who still lives in Huntington Beach and works as a data processor. "I thought he was being prosecuted for a longer term."
When she learned that Morgan was suspected of killing Wong just a year after he allegedly attacked her, she was "horrified."
The woman said she hopes the district attorney's office will follow through on its pledge to take another look at her case to see if a case could be brought to court.
For that to happen, however, Deputy Dist. Atty. Charles Middleton said more evidence is needed. He defended the office's decision not to file charges last year on several grounds, including the fact that there were no witnesses, that Morgan claimed their sex was consensual, that the woman had consumed six beers earlier that evening, and that her story had several damaging inconsistencies.
Middleton said the woman initially lied to police about the incident, claiming that two men had pulled her into a car against her will while she was walking along Pacific Coast Highway near Warner Avenue. She claimed the men handcuffed her a tree and raped her and that she managed to escape from her attackers by slipping out of the handcuffs and running away.
When police pressed her about contradictions in her story, she admitted she lied because she was afraid they would think she was to blame for the rape.
"I was embarrassed by the whole thing," the woman recalled Tuesday. "I was in the hospital and the police were relentless. I was hysterical at the time. . . . It was a blow to my ego and pride." She also said that she feared for her life, thinking her attacker could find her again and kill her.
Later that same evening, the woman changed her story and gave an account of the incident that police found believable. In that version, Morgan drove by the woman a couple of times and asked her if she needed a ride. At first she declined, but then she accepted when he persisted. They then bought beer and drove to Huntington Central Park to drink.
"He came across as a really nice guy, then his personality changed in a second," she said.
While at the park, she said, Morgan handcuffed her to a small tree before she realized what he was doing. "The handcuffs came out of nowhere," she said. Morgan then raped her, the woman said, despite her efforts to fight him off. "He was very violent," she said.
After he had finished raping her, Morgan spotted the headlights of an approaching car and started to flee, she said. At that point, the woman said she was able to bend the tiny tree enough to slip the handcuffs over the top and she started running.
Morgan chased after her, tackled her and forced her into his car, the woman said. Because he did not have a key for the handcuffs, he drove her to a Westminster apartment complex where he was able to remove them. Once the cuffs were off, the woman tried to run away again but to no avail, she said.
" 'You're going to kill me,' I said. He said, 'Stop saying that.' That's when he broke down and cried," the woman recounted. "He said he would marry me. He was acting crazy."
The woman said she tried to console him to protect herself and prevent him from going berserk. She said she calmed him down by giving him a phony telephone number and asking him to call. Then he drove her to a friend's house, where she called police.
Middleton, the prosecutor in the case, said there were too many problems with the woman's story to win a rape conviction before a jury.
"We're not faulting the victim, because we realize the trauma that victims go through in this type of case," Middleton said. "The problem is trying to overcome these . . . inconsistencies and problematic events in front of a jury."
He said the case "would have been impossible to prove."
The woman, however, said the district attorney's office didn't try hard enough to prosecute Morgan.
"I'm sure there are many victims who get rattled by what happened to them and don't have their stories straight. My emotions were reeling," the woman said. "I wonder how many times somebody gets off because a story isn't perfect the first time. I feel like somebody is dead because of this."