November 26, 2012

Victim of alleged rape misidentifies suspect in Portland courtroom

She later identifies the suspect in custody, and a judge finds probable cause for the charge.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — A case that has already experienced many legal twists since prosecutors first charged a teenage Somali refugee with raping a woman in her Portland apartment in May took another sharp turn in court Monday when the victim mistakenly identified the defendant's interpreter as her attacker.

The accused, Mohammed Mukhtar, sat between his attorney and an interpreter as the victim testified from the stand during a hearing on a motion by prosecutors to try Mukhtar as an adult.

Assistant District Attorney Christine Thibeault then asked the 50-year-old victim to identify her attacker for the court. The victim pointed to the interpreter, describing him as wearing a gray suit. Mukhtar, seated to his interpreter's left, was wearing a short-sleeved plaid shirt with no tie or jacket. Both men are black. The victim is white.

"He's the gentleman right over there," the victim said, identifying the interpreter.

The courtroom fell silent for a moment until Thibeault asked Judge Richard Mulhern to grant a brief recess.

The unexpected turn, however, did not derail prosecutors' efforts to have Mukhtar tried as an adult. At the end of the first day of the juvenile court hearing, the judge found that there was probable cause for the charge against Mukhtar. Probable cause is the first step in a two-step process of binding over a juvenile case to be tried in adult court. The second phase of the hearing is scheduled to resume Tuesday.

Monday's juvenile proceeding was open to the public because the charge against Mukhtar is the equivalent of a felony.

Although the victim failed to identify Mukhtar as her attacker at first, she did identify him after the recess. She was seated on the stand as Mukhtar was brought back into the courtroom and led across the room in shackles to the defense table. The victim was then invited to walk closer to the defense table. After looking more closely, she returned to the stand and identified Mukhtar as her attacker.

Thibeault asked the victim more questions to make sure of her second answer.

"When I did the walk-by and got a better look at the man, and his eyes are what I remember," the victim said.

Thibeault asked the victim to repeat her answer, identifying Mukhtar as her attacker.

"Are you 100 percent sure that the man in the middle is the one?" Thibeault asked.

"Yes, ma'am," the victim replied.

The victim went on to testify that she woke up in her High Street apartment on May 26 to being raped by a stranger in her bedroom. She said she jumped up and screamed at the man to leave her room.

The victim said that when she awoke, her attacker was wearing only a shirt and was naked from the waist down.

"He threw money at me and said, 'I pay you to finish me,' " the victim said. "I told him to get out."

She said the man kept arguing with her until she reached for the phone and told him she was calling the police.

After he left, she found a condom in her apartment that she told the court had blood on it. Mukhtar was arrested in the case after police found a fingerprint on a condom wrapper.

The case had already seen its share of legal questions before Monday's hearing.

Mukhtar was first charged as an adult with breaking into the woman's apartment and raping her. Mukhtar's attorney, Jonathan Berry, later argued successfully that Mukhtar was born on Oct. 25, 1994, and was therefore a 17-year-old juvenile at the time of the alleged offense.

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