HACKENSACK, NJ (PIX11)—It was a rape case that went cold for years, until a random stop of a driver by police opened the whole thing up again, and now, two men, EMT partners, wait to see if a jury believes they kidnapped a woman, raped her and left her nearly naked in the street.
This rape case is highly unusual, since reported rapes have barely a 50% chance of leading to an arrest, according to the Department of Justice statistics. Dormant cases can be even more difficult to pursue, but this once-dormant case yielded two arrests. Both defendants have been in court for four weeks, facing their accuser and facing damning accusations, as well as strong evidence against them.
She said that two men, Byron Chica and Michael Cawley, kidnapped her off a Hoboken street corner after she was out partying with girlfriends, then Chica drove up the New Jersey Turnpike while Cawley raped her in the back seat.
According to prosecutors, the men left the woman alone in an industrial area of Palisades Park, New Jersey, about seven miles north of Hoboken, wearing nothing but her bra. Evidence entered in court included EZPass records that support the woman's account, and surveillance video from a camera in a Palisades Park condo complex that shows a woman, in the early morning hours of the day that the woman and her friends say she disappeared, walking aimlessly, nearly naked, seconds after an SUV that matches one owned by Byron Chica, passed by.
For their part, the defendants deny that anything illegal happened, and Michael Cawley says that he and the woman had consensual sex at a friend's house in Newark after he encountered the woman in Hoboken.
"There is no other thing that he can say," prosecuting attorney Mello said in court. "So he tells you this lie."
That bold statement was further supported by DNA evidence against Cawley. It is unusual how investigators were able to obtain it. The woman filed the rape charge on August 21, 2005, the day she was found nearly naked in a fetal position after allegedly wandering around unclothed.
She admitted that a combination of heavy drinking the night before and prescription medication use left her unable to remember the face of the man who she said raped her, and a photo lineup that she did was inconclusive. The case did not advance, and two items she'd had on her person when she'd encountered the two men remained missing.
"Her drivers license and her cellphone gone forever, or so it seemed," Mello said to the four women and eight men of the jury, "Until the afternoon of April 14, 2007." That's when Jersey City police, carrying out an unrelated arson investigation, searched Chica's car, and found the rape victim's drivers license.
Even though a friend of Chica's was borrowing his car at the time, the discovery led investigators to Chica and Cawley, and to a DNA sample from the rape kit that had been used with the victim two years earlier. It showed a DNA match, whose chances of inaccuracy, according to prosecutors, was infinitesimally small.
"These numbers are in the quintillions," Mello said. "That's a one, with eighteen zeros."
Judge Peter Roma charged the jury at noon Wednesday, and they deliberated until around 4:00 p.m. They are expected to continue deliberating on Thursday, and may reach a verdict before Friday.