Jury won't see Tyson tape, but public will

January 30, 1992|By John Kass | John Kass,Chicago Tribune

INDIANAPOLIS -- The jury in Mike Tyson's rape case won't see a potentially damaging videotape in which the fighter reportedly made remarks interpreted by some as threatening to his alleged victim.

Opening statements began today. A panel of 12 jurors and three alternates was completed yesterday, and all 15 were sequestered in a downtown hotel.

Tyson is on trial for allegedly raping an 18-year-old Miss Black America contestant in his Indianapolis hotel room last July.

Also yesterday, Judge Patricia Gifford handed down several key rulings on motions. They include barring Tyson's lawyers from bringing up the alleged victim's sexual history or any marital problems of her parents.

Gifford also prevented prosecutors from calling former Tyson confidant Jose Torres to testify about comments Tyson allegedly made regarding how he treated women.

Prosecutors withdrew their request to use the videotape as evidence. That tape was a recording of a Tyson news conference in September, shortly after he was indicted on rape charges.

Prosecutors may use other videotapes, including one showing Tyson with Miss Black America contestants at a pageant rehearsal.

Sources familiar with the case said that if the controversial news conference tape had been allowed and Tyson convicted, he likely could have won a reversal on appeal because the statements were made months after the alleged crime.

According to officials and employees of WISH-TV, the tape is either damning or ambiguous.

"We never broadcast the tape because we couldn't determine the context of his remarks," said Steve Sweitzer, director of news operations for WISH-TV, the local CBS affiliate here. "We didn't want to tamper with a potential jury pool. . .

"The one thing everybody agrees on is that the word 'kill' is on it -- you can hear him say it. . . But whether he says 'I should've killed' the woman is difficult to say."

Some station personnel who have seen the tape say Tyson is shown saying, "I should've killed the bitch," an apparent reference to his victim. Others say Tyson was referring to another potential witness, a female limousine driver who drove the alleged victim to and from Tyson's room at the Canterbury Hotel around the time of the alleged attack.

Still others say Tyson's remarks have been interpreted by some experts as, "I never killed anybody."

The station turned the unused tape over to the Marion County prosecutors office when it received a subpoena. WISH chose not to contest the issue on First Amendment grounds, attorney Dan Byron said.

Sweitzer said the tape would be broadcast this evening. During its evening broadcast yesterday, the station reported it would show the tape today, an announcement that is likely to guarantee viewers.

"There's been a lot of buildup on this today, but I think people will be disappointed," he said. "The quality is not so good."

Tyson made the comments on the tape at the end of a news conference as he muttered to friend and training-camp coordinator John Horne.

The decision about the tape, and a media feeding frenzy that erupted in the court building because of it, only added to the circus atmosphere surrounding the trial of one of the world's most famous athletes. There also was scalping of seats to watch the trial and squabbling among those who couldn't get in for what turned out to be a quiet day in the courtroom.

Tyson's image of a fearsome former street thug melted as he clung to Camille Ewald, the Catskill, N.Y., woman who has been a mother figure for him since he was brought to her home as a 13-year-old juvenile delinquent.

Before the 12th juror, a 46-year-old factory worker, was selected, Tyson leaned over the court railing to hold Ewald's hands. He joked with her and repeatedly touched his forehead. Although he's only 25, the fighter's forehead is a massive ridge of bone, pocked with scar tissue.

For the first time since being in court Monday, Tyson's face broke into a series of warm smiles. He giggled something into Ewald's ear.

When Gifford opened court, Ewald, a close friend of Tyson's late trainer, Cus D'Amato, kept switching her gaze between the fighter and the potential jurors. When prosecutor Greg Garrison read the series of charges against him, she folded her fingers together and rested her chin on her hands and briefly closed her eyes.

Gifford's decisions on several motions are expected to have great impact on the trial.

In barring Tyson's defense from discussing whether the alleged victim had a sexual history, she invoked Indiana's shield law, a state statute the judge helped write when she was a sex-crimes prosecutor.

Gifford also dealt a blow to the defense when she ruled against a defense motion that tried to stop prosecutors from using the 18-year-old's garments worn on the night of the alleged rape.

The alleged victim wore a tank top, shorts and a sequined bra. But she took those clothes back home with her to New England. Police then asked her to cut a few sequins from the bra and send them to Indianapolis to match them with other evidence.

Vincent Fuller, Tyson's chief legal counsel, argued that the clothing evidence could not be used because it had not been protected and had been altered.

In ruling favorable to the Tyson defense, Gifford forbade the prosecution to call Torres to the stand or to make any mention of Torres' Tyson biography, "Fire and Ice." In that book, Torres, a former light-heavyweight champion also trained by D'Amato, quotes Tyson making statements about how the boxer likes to hurt women.

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