A fifth teen has been arrested over the alleged rape of an 18-year-old girl in a New York park in which the girl's father was reportedly driven away at gunpoint before the attack. Like the other four suspects, aged between 14 and 17, Travis Beckford, 17, has been charged as an adult with first-degree rape and other sex offences.
Two of the suspects were turned in by their parents after New York Police Department (NYPD) posted footage of them in a deli shortly before the incident took place. The others were picked up by officers in or around Brooklyn. Beckford was picked up as he attended morning classes at a local high school.
Even in a hardened city like New York news of the incident caused horror and revulsion, with Mayor Bill de Blasio saying he was "disgusted and deeply saddened by the horrific attack." Local people in the vicinity of Osborn Park, in Brownsville, said the park was unsafe and poorly policed; the alleged victim's father said he had been unable to find any police nearby and it had taken 20 minutes to summon help. The NYPD refuted the allegation.
However as more information came to light, doubts were raised both locally and in the New York media about what exactly took place last Thursday evening (7 January). First, it emerged from the girl's father that he and his daughter had been drinking in a secluded area in order to avoid the police. Then the owner of a local deli claimed he had spoken to the father shortly after the incident took place. He said he was too drunk to understand and did not mention the attack.
Now lawyers for the five have alleged the girl was having sex with her father - from whom she had been estranged - when the youths entered the park and several had consensual sex. According to the New York Times, a video shot by one of the youths shows what appears to be the girl half-naked and apparently consenting to sex.
Defence lawyers claim the case against the five boys is shaky - none was picked out of identification lines by the victim or her father. Lawyers raised the spectre of the "Central Park Five", who were imprisoned in 1989 for the brutal rape of a jogger in Manhattan's famous park. The five black and Hispanic men were freed in 2002 when DNA evidence proved another man was the culprit.
"The case is getting weaker by the day," said lawyer Spencer Leeds. "This case is on its way to disappearing. There's a belief in the neighborhood in the Brownsville community that the complaining witness and the father have had sexual intercourse."
However police say even if that was proved true, it would not mean no crime was committed by the youths. It "does not mean she was not a victim of a pretty horrific attack," a law enforcement said anonymously. "What appeared to have happened is that the father may have put her in that compromised position."