William Kennedy Smith is charged with rape, expected to surrender

May 10, 1991|By Ellen Uzelac | Ellen Uzelac,Sun Staff Correspondent

WEST PALM BEACH,FLA — WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Florida prosecutors charged William Kennedy Smith yesterday with raping a young woman at the Kennedy estate Easter weekend, setting the stage for a celebrity trial in a case that already has made headlines around the world.

Also yesterday, State Attorney David H. Bludworth said his office would charge a national supermarket tabloid with unlawfully revealing the identity of the alleged rape victim.

Palm Beach police said that an arrest warrant had been issued for the 30-year-old Mr. Smith, nephew of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and that he was expected to surrender to authorities here early next week. He will be permitted to post bond, prosecutors said.

Mr. Smith told reporters in Washington yesterday that he was confident he would be exonerated but that he was worried about the effect the case could have on his family and future.

Mr. Bludworth, the Palm Beach County prosecutor, said he decided to press charges after reviewing the police case and personally interviewing the alleged victim.

"This case is no different from any other, and it's now in the judicial forum," he said. "There is a presumption of innocence." He said the trial would be handled by an assistant prosecutor.

A lengthy document detailing highlights of the police investigation states that the 29-year-old woman passed both a polygraph and a computerized voice stress analysis test. Neither test can be admitted as evidence in court.

Mr. Smith, a fourth-year medical student at Georgetown University, was charged with second-degree sexual battery and battery. Florida law classifies rape as sexual battery. The two charges carry a maximum combined penalty of 16 years in prison and a fine of $15,000.

At a nationally televised news conference in a palm tree-studded park next to the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, Mr. Bludworth announced that he also had filed two charges against Globe Communications Corp. for publishing the name of the alleged rape victim in the April 23 and April 30 editions of the Globe, a supermarket tabloid.

The alleged rape has drawn international media attention, but only a few news organizations, including the New York Times and NBC News, identified the purported victim.

Yesterday, Mr. Bludworth, who is in his fifth term, said his office had not pressed charges against the Times and NBC because "the facts are different," adding, "We still have matters to look at." He said he had been in contact with attorneys from the two news organizations.

The Globe was the first organization to publish the woman's name, but identification of her by the much-respected Times and NBC sparked a national debate about the rights of rape victims.

In her statement to police, parts of which were released yesterday, the woman said she did not immediately report the incident because she was afraid no one would believe her because of the prominence of the suspect and his relationship to the Kennedys.

Yesterday, in a statement read by her attorney, the woman said she felt she had made the "right decision because rape needs to be reported."

Rape is the most underreported crime in Florida, according to Mr. Bludworth, and public disclosure of a rape victim's name has a "chilling" effect of forcing victims underground, he said.

"It is different from other crimes and is so perceived by many citizens in our society," he said. "Rape victims should have the right to choose whether or not their names will be made public."

In Florida, it is illegal to publish or broadcast the name of a rape victim. The crime is punishable by a 60-day jail term or a fine of $500.

In the document released yesterday, Palm Beach Police Officer Christine E. Rigolo gave the following account of what the alleged victim told police happened between her and Mr. Smith on March 30:

Shortly after the two were introduced at Au Bar, a trendy Palm Beach nightclub, Mr. Smith asked the woman for a ride back to the oceanfront Kennedy compound. Once there, she said, she accepted Mr. Smith's offer to tour the estate. She said she twice saw Senator Kennedy and Patrick Kennedy, Mr. Smith's cousin, on the property, according to the police report.

Mr. Smith and the woman walked to the beach, where they talked and kissed. She said that she declined an invitation to swim and that she became uncomfortable and turned away when Mr. Smith began to unfasten his pants, the police report said.

At that point, she said she started to leave and had climbed a stairway leading off the beach when Mr. Smith grabbed her leg. She began to run but Mr. Smith tackled her from behind, she said, forcing himself on top of her, according to police.

She said he pulled her dress up, pushed aside her panties and raped her. When she tried to push him away, she said he told her, "Stop it, bitch," according to the police report.

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