Hours after he sputtered his own accusations at his accuser from the witness stand, a 59-year-old New Orleans landlord was convicted of kidnapping and rape in a case that lay dormant for decades until it was revived by DNA evidence.
The jury of nine women and three men at Criminal District Court found Tyrone Warner guilty of forcing a woman into his car at gunpoint in the Irish Channel in 1990 and raping her.
The jury was out for less than two hours after a prosecutor rebuked Warner in her closing statement for claiming that his victim voluntarily exchanged sex for money.
“It’s horrible. It breaks my heart in a million pieces,” Assistant District Attorney Laura Cannizzaro Rodrigue said.
The verdict was 10-2 on both counts of aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape. Warner, 59, faces a mandatory life term at a Feb. 5 sentencing. Judge Paul Bonin ordered him jailed until then.
Jurors were presented with dueling testimony from him and his accuser.
Warner’s accuser was 22 when she went to police to report enduring a brutal rape on Jan. 31, 1990. She said she was walking home with her baby boy in her arms early that morning when a man pulled alongside her in a vehicle and pointed a gun at her.
It was dark and she could barely make out a mustache on the man’s face when he took her to a park and tried to rape her, she said. “He brought me back to the car because my baby was screaming and hollering,” she said.
The man tossed her baby into the car’s back seat and then raped her, she said.
“There’s a lot of things I can’t remember. I don’t want to remember. There’s some things you want to get out of your mind because they’re so painful,” she said.
Within hours the woman went to the police and then to Charity Hospital for a sexual assault examination, also known as a rape kit. A doctor took a sample of what appeared to be a bodily fluid on her buttocks.
As the woman acknowledged on the stand, she first accused another man of the crime.
Her boyfriend, who was locked up at Orleans Parish Prison, told her of a fellow inmate who bragged about committing a rape similar to hers. The woman picked the man described by her boyfriend out of a police lineup. He was charged with rape, but prosecutors dropped the case in 1990 after the woman said she did not want to go to trial.
“I didn’t want anybody to get in trouble because it was wrong,” she said.
The woman has since moved to Houston. With her voice wavering, she said the trial had plunged her back into the traumatic events of 1990.
Hours later Warner took the stand, saying that the woman was a frequent sexual partner of his at the time. “We laughed and joked a lot of time with each other,” he said.
Warner, who was charged in the case in 2011, said he did not know why the woman was testifying against him now.
“I don’t know what’s going on here. I can tell you this, I didn’t know who was sitting here. That was a beautiful lady when she was younger,” he said.
Rodrigue pressed Warner on why another woman, who lived in one of several rental units he maintains, would accuse him of attempted rape. It was that 2010 arrest and DNA testing in that case which led to a match to the rape kit from the 1990 attack.
“I haven’t been brought to trial for that,” Warner said.
Warner’s defense attorney, Robert Jenkins, sought to cast the interaction between his client and the victim as a consensual encounter. He also blasted the state for withholding the victim’s name until the first day of the trial, which he said prevented him from mounting an effective defense.
Jenkins told jurors that the DNA in the case was unreliable because it had degraded by the time it was tested in 2005, as part of a Police Department effort to clear a rape-kit backlog.
It was only after prosecutors uttered the victim’s name in their opening statements that his client was able to understand his connection to her, Jenkins said.
“He’s been with her many times, but she’s not going to admit it,” Jenkins said.
However, Rodrigue stressed in her closing statement that the woman did not have any reason to fabricate a story about a winter night long ago.
“Ask yourselves, can you think of any logical reason why she would have got on the stand and lied about this, 27 years later?” she said.