Hofstra University freshman who had claimed she was raped by five men in a dormitory bathroom changed her story after prosecutors confronted her with the revelation that a video of the encounter may have been recorded, a prosecutor said Thursday.
The recantation on Wednesday night led to the immediate release of four men, including one student at the Long Island college, who had been arrested on rape and other charges. Police had been seeking to arrest a fifth man when the charges were dropped.
The sex did occur in a bathroom but was consensual, a prosecutor said. Authorities could decide within weeks whether to charge the 18-year-old woman for making up the story.
The woman was identified as Danmell Ndonye of Manhattan by a law enforcement official with firsthand knowledge who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the name. A call to a Manhattan phone listing for a Ndonye was returned by a woman saying it was a wrong number.
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said Thursday that the woman, whom she would not identify, was interviewed Wednesday night by two senior prosecutors as a routine part of a follow-up investigation.
The woman first told police she was lured to the dormitory and raped early Sunday after her cell phone was stolen by a man she had met at a dance party, Rice said. She said she was bound with rope while the five men took turns sexually assaulting her in a men's bathroom stall.
Almost immediately, Rice said, the woman's story began to unravel with "significant inconsistencies," but she declined to elaborate. "The turning point was when she was confronted with the fact that there may exist a video of some or all of the incident," Rice said.
"Her actions and demeanor depict a very troubled young woman in need of much help," the prosecutor said.
An attorney for one of the accused men, 20-year-old Kevin Taveras, said he was shown a copy of the cell phone video and said it confirmed reports that the woman was not attacked.
"It looks more like a porn movie," Victor Daly-Rivera said. "It showed just the opposite of what the allegations were. There was no tying up, there was no bruising, there was no screaming."
Ndonye has been suspended from school until a disciplinary hearing is held, a Hofstra spokeswoman said. Melissa Connolly also said a suspension against Rondell Bedward — the only Hofstra student among the five men implicated — had been lifted.
Two of the men who were released said outside the Nassau County jail on Wednesday night that said they had feared the possibility of serving 25 years to life for a felony rape conviction.
"It's crazy; the system is supposed to prevent these things from happening," Taveras said outside the jail late Wednesday.
"It's supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, not guilty until proven innocent," he said. "Inside I thought I was going to do a bit for something I didn't do."
Latest twist in the case
Bedward, 21, declined to comment after he was released.
On campus, students shook their heads at the latest twist in the case.
"It's definitely a shock," said Megan Michler, a junior from Penargyl, Pa. "I guess she completely lied about it and it's not fair to the guys that were involved. Everyone was shaken up by the whole thing, and now we were shaken up for nothing."
Hofstra, a private university of 12,600 students, played host to the final presidential debate of the 2008 election.
The rape report "just really gave the university a bad name," said Dani Frank, a print journalism major from Easton, Conn. "I really wish there hadn't been conclusions jumped to because it put the boys in a negative light, it put Hofstra in a negative light, and people will give her a lot less credibility in the future."