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- February 24, 1992
- Vol. 37
- No. 7
Payback Comes to Sexual Predator Mike Tyson, Who Broke All the Rules—Until a Victim Fought Back
After the Clarence Thomas hearings and the William Kennedy Smith trial, it was beginning to seem as if a woman might never win a round in the he-said-she-said battle of the sexes. This time, though, a panel of 12 jurors chose to believe the accuser, a freshman at Providence College who teaches Sunday school and spends some of her free time caring for retarded kids. During the Miss Black America beauty pageant last summer, she said, Tyson, 25, raped her in room 606 of the Canterbury Hotel in Indianapolis. Though tested by Tyson's expensive legal team, Desiree Washington held firm to her version of the events of July 19, 1991—and was ultimately convincing. "We looked at the chain of events," the jury foreman, a 37-year-old IBM marketing manager, said afterward. "And when we put it together, the issue of consent was clearly not given."
In the witness box over two days, Washington testified quietly and calmly. Yet she never presented herself as anything other than what she truly seems to be: a wide-eyed teenager. She spoke in a high-pitched, almost childlike voice, used words like "neat" and "yucky" and admitted to being star-struck. At one point she described how her father, grandfather and brother had all been fans of Mike Tyson's and how they used to watch his fights on television. On the night of the rape, she even brought a camera along to take a souvenir photograph of him.
She had flown alone to Indianapolis and had checked into the downtown Omni Severin Hotel with two roommates and fellow contestants, Pasha Oliver, 20. of Montgomery, Ala., and Kycia Johnson, 20, of McAlester, Okla. On the day before the rape, she testified, she and the 22 other contestants were rehearsing a dance number in the hotel ballroom when Tyson arrived wearing a large TOGETHER IN CHRIST button on his shirt. " 'You're a nice Christian girl, right?' " she quoted Tyson as asking her. "I smiled and said, 'Yeah.' " A little later, during the filming of a promotional spot, Tyson gave her a hug. "He asked me if I wanted to go out on a date," she recalled. "I said, 'Sure.' " Later in the day she bumped into Tyson again and asked if they were really going out on a date. He said, "Yeah."
But Tyson didn't call and didn't show up at her hotel. So she and Oliver went to a concert and then to bed. At about 1:30 A.M. Tyson called from his limousine. "He said, 'Can you come out?' I said, 'At this time?' He said, 'We can go around Indianapolis. I want to talk to you.' I told him it was late....I was in my pajamas." Washington said she suggested they meet the following evening, but Tyson told her he was leaving town. So she agreed to see him, asking Oliver to come along. When her roommate declined, Washington invited Tyson to come up to her hotel room—but Oliver rejected that idea as well.
Washington threw on a halter top, flowered jacket and baggy shorts, grabbed her camera and headed down. Tyson was outside, sitting in the back of a gold limousine. Washington said she thought they might drive around and meet some of the celebrities who were in town for Indiana Black Expo, the cultural festival sponsoring the beauty pageant. "I got in, he hugged me, he tried to kiss me, and I jumped back," she testified. "I was surprised that he acted like that and that his breath kind of smelled too."
The limousine went around the corner to the nearby Canterbury Hotel, where Tyson was staying. "He said something about picking something up," she said. "Something about a bodyguard." She followed him to room 606. While Tyson went into the bedroom to make a phone call, she sat in a chair in the foyer. A few minutes later Tyson called out, "The TV is in here." She replied, "I thought we were leaving." He then beckoned her into the bedroom, saying he wanted to talk.
He sat at the head of the bed, she at the foot. He asked her about college (she is on a full scholarship), about whether she is athletic (she is a jazz dancer) and about her community work (she is a Big Sister volunteer). He told her about his 200 pigeons. "I thought that was neat," she testified, "because I love animals."
Tyson then asked about her parents. Did they like him? "They don't really know you," she said. What about her, Tyson asked. Did she like him? "I don't really know you either," she answered. "But from what I've seen, you're OK."
That was the turning point, Washington testified. "He leaned over, and his voice changed. He said, 'You're turning me on.' I said, 'I'm not like all those other women. I don't know what you think I came up here for.' I started getting really nervous. I said, 'I'm going to the bathroom...' "
Washington relieved herself, removing her panty liner but not replacing it. Her only fresh one was in her purse on the bed, she said, adding that she preferred no panty liner to another close encounter with Tyson. But when she came out of the bathroom, Tyson was in his underwear. "I was terrified. I said, 'It's time for me to leave,' " she testified. "He said, 'Come here.' He grabbed my arm and stuck his tongue in my mouth. He pulled me toward him. It was disgusting. I pulled back. He said, 'Don't frighten. Don't frighten. Relax.' I tried to punch him, but it was like hitting a wall. I said, 'Get off! Get off me! Stop!' The next thing I knew, he slammed me on the bed."
Tyson held his huge forearm across her chest, Washington said, and pulled off her shorts and underwear. "He put his hand in my vagina, he jammed his fingers in me really hard. I said, 'Ow, please stop! You're hurting me.' My eyes were filling up with tears. Then he started laughing like it was a game." She said he called her a "crybaby."
"I said anything I could to get him off me," she told the packed courtroom. "I was begging him. 'Please, I have a future ahead of me....Please, I don't need a baby....Please, I'm going on to college.' He said, 'So we have a baby,' and jammed himself inside me." The pain was "excruciating," she said. "I felt like someone was ripping me apart." A few seconds later, she recalled, Tyson told her, "Don't fight me, mommy." Then he pulled out and ejaculated on the bed. "Don't you love me now?" she quoted him as saying. As she got dressed, Tyson suggested she spend the night. "I said, 'Why? So you can do this again?' " With that, she left and went back to her hotel in his limousine.
The day after the rape she felt "dirty," she said, and took repeated showers. Now, she added, she still suffers from nightmares and seeks the comfort of her mother's bed. She decided to testify, she told the court, after her mother asked how she would feel if Tyson attacked another woman.
To counter her story, Tyson's attorney Vincent Fuller tried to portray Washington as "a gold digger." During his opening argument, he pointed to the spectator section, to two lawyers hired by Washington's family to handle legal matters during the trial. If Tyson were convicted, Fuller charged, "they will file a big lawsuit, which stands to make Desiree Washington a wealthy woman." (Washington denies the charge.) She had removed her panty liner, the lawyer said, to be ready to have sex with Tyson. Fuller, a leading Washington, D.C., attorney who convinced a jury 11 years ago that John Hinckley Jr., Ronald Reagan's would-be assassin, was insane, also roared at Desiree during cross-examination. He demanded to know why she continued with pageant activities for two more days after the rape if she were so traumatized.
"If I was a quitter," she retorted, "I wouldn't be here now."
Throughout the slender victim's testimony—she stands 5'4" and weighs but 108 lbs.—the 250-lb. heavyweight sat like a marble statue, staring at her, occasionally chewing on his pencil. Tyson's cause was not helped by Fuller's bizarre strategy—what is known in legal circles as a "trash" defense. Fuller took Tyson's blackened reputation even further into the ooze, portraying him as a crude-mannered punk who paws, fondles and gropes every woman he sees. Therefore, he argued, no respectable woman would go out with the ex-champ—unless she was after money. Defense attorneys paraded one beauty contestant after another to testify to Tyson's lewdness at the beauty contest. In fact, former Miss Black America Rosie Jones has lodged a $100 million suit against Tyson for pawing her at the pageant. His alleged reply to her rebuff: "What's wrong? You don't want to help a black man out?"
Indeed, the boxer's behavior in Indianapolis was so outrageous that even his chauffeur, Virginia Foster, 44, caught some of the abuse. Special Prosecutor J. Gregory Garrison said in court, outside the presence of the jury, that Tyson grabbed Foster, started kissing her and exposed himself to her. "But she is streetwise," Garrison said, "and pushed him away."
When Tyson took the stand to present his version of events, he testified that he used roughly the same brutal approach with Washington. Speaking barely above a whisper, Tyson said that when he asked Washington out, she said, " 'We can go out to a movie or dinner or something.' I said, 'I don't want to do that. I don't have that in mind. I just want to be with you.... I want to f--- you.'... She said, 'That's kind of bold.' I said, 'Well, that's the way I am. I want what I want.' I said, "I just want to know where we stand. 'She said, 'Sure. Call me.' "
That night, Tyson said he called Washington on his limousine phone and asked her out. "Wash your face. Put some water on your face. Comb your hair and put on something loose," he said he told her. He originally planned to have sex in the limo—hence the loose clothes—but changed his mind. Instead, he took her to his hotel, kissing her on the way, and then up to his room where, he said, they made love. The only time she said no, he testified, was when she wanted him to stop performing oral sex. Afterward, he said, Washington got angry when he refused to walk her down to the car. "I didn't because I was too tired," he said. "I told her, 'I'd love for you to stay. But if you don't want to, you can use the limousine.' "
Garrison—a private lawyer hired by Marion County to prosecute the Tyson case—pounced on Tyson. He pointed out that three hours after the incident, at 5:45 A.M., Tyson hurriedly caught a plane for Cleveland. leaving behind some of his belongings at the hotel. That was a sign, said Garrison, that Tyson felt he was fleeing a crime. At the prosecution's behest, Dr. Thomas Richardson testified that Washington's vaginal abrasions were consistent with wounds caused during rape and were unlikely to have been inflicted any other way. Foster, Tyson's chauffeur, said Washington appeared to be "in a state of shock" when she left the hotel. "She looked dazed, disoriented. She seemed scared."
But Tyson may have been the most damaging witness against himself. He said his bodyguard accompanied the couple to room 606—something other witnesses denied—but the bodyguard never testified, leaving jurors to wonder why. Under cross-examination, Tyson admitted lying during the pageant to his friend Rev. Jesse Jackson, promising to make a public appearance he had no intention of fulfilling. And the prosecutor scored points off Tyson's memory. Rap singer B Angie B, Tyson's sometime girlfriend, told a grand jury in September that she had had sex several times with the boxer during his 36-hour stay in Indianapolis. At the trial, Tyson said he probably had sex with her but he couldn't be sure. He guessed he did it in some "crappy Holiday Inn." Garrison, his voice dripping with sarcasm, leaned forward and asked, "You remember having sex with Desiree Washington but forget having sex with B Angie B the day before?"
"It could have been sex," Tyson muttered.
Later, during closing arguments, Garrison pointed to the petite, sniffling accuser seated with her mother and deflated Fuller's characterization of Washington as a predatory seductress out to snag the wealthy Tyson. "Being the wise and wily 18-year-old that she is," said Garrison, "she puts on her jammies in her hotel room, goes to sleep and lies in wait for poor Mr. Tyson to call." As for Tyson, he said, "You got a person who, when it suits his purpose, will deceive and lie." The jury required little convincing.
The record of Iron Mike's relations with women has always been sordid, dismal and violent. As a young tough on the streets of the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Tyson has told interviewers, he used to mug elderly women, pick pockets and steal from fruit stands. Even after he had been saved from the mean streets by the legendary boxing manager Cus D'Amato, Tyson continued his vulgar ways. At one point, one of D'Amato's trainers, Teddy Atlas, pulled a gun on Tyson after the teenage fighter allegedly fondled Atlas's 12-year-old sister-in-law. And nine months before becoming heavyweight champion in 1986, Tyson turned violent in an Albany shopping mall after a sales clerk he propositioned turned him down. That same evening a furious Tyson was tossed out of a local movie theater after another woman rebuffed his advances.
Both his ex-wife, actress Robin Givens, and his onetime steady, model Naomi Campbell, have had their share of troubles with Tyson. During their stormy eight months together, Givens claimed Tyson was at times loving, at other times destructive—like a teddy bear who would suddenly turn into an angry grizzly.
Other women say they too have been victims of Tyson's penchant for crude sexual overtures. In December 1988 Sandra Miller and Lori Davis both sued Tyson for grabbing their breasts and buttocks in Bentley's Disco in Manhattan. Miller received only $100 after a jury said Tyson's behavior was "not outrageous." Davis's case was quietly settled out of court. Later that same year, Givens's former publicist Phyllis Polaner sued Tyson for physically and sexually assaulting her. Polaner's case is still pending. In his biography of the boxer, former light-heavyweight champion and ex-Tyson buddy José Torres quotes Tyson as saying, "I like to hurt women when I make love to them. I like to hear them scream with pain, to see them bleed." (Tyson has denied the quote.)
Tyson has had several emotional setbacks—one in 1985 when D'Amato died, another in 1988 when D'Amato's successor, Jimmy Jacobs, passed away-Both managers had a positive influence on the fighter, former associates say, but his self-control has seriously deteriorated since 1989 when he signed with boxing promoter Don King.
Now he is a convicted rapist. Free on $30,000 bail, he will be sentenced March 6. Judge Patricia Gilford could put Iron Mike in irons for up to 20 years on each of the three charges against him. As a first offender, however, Tyson might even be eligible for parole after serving a couple of years.
The verdict, though, has dealt a fatal blow to a dazzling boxing career and has already cost Tyson $15 million he would have earned for fighting heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. Almost everyone who followed the courtroom proceedings expected the result—except perhaps Tyson himself. At one point during the 13-day trial, Tyson leaned over the railing and told a friend, "I'll win. I always win." It was only the latest of his many misjudgments.
BILL SHAW in Indianapolis
- Bill Shaw.
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