DNA Vindicates Lesbian Rape Victim Smeared by Daily News

Lookout Hill in Prospect Park, where police now say James Webb, in 1994, raped a lesbian whose account was termed a “hoax” by a prominent Daily News columnist. | DUNCAN OSBORNE

BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | Nearly 24 years after a lesbian was raped in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and then called a liar and a hoaxer in the pages of the New York Daily News by columnist Mike McAlary, the NYPD is reporting that it linked the DNA found in that case to a man who is serving what is effectively a life sentence in state prison for other sexual assaults he committed.

“She was called a liar by one of the most famous columnists in New York City and she’s had to live with that all of these years,” said Gabriel Rotello, who was a Newsday columnist in 1994 and the leading defender of the woman. “She’s been vindicated after all of these years and I’m thrilled with that.”

Using DNA recovered from semen found on the woman following the April 1994 rape, police are asserting that James Webb, 67, committed the assault. He is currently serving a sentence of 75-years-to-life for 1998 sexual assault convictions. Webb is not eligible for a first parole hearing until 2070. The statute of limitations has run out on the 1994 rape and Webb cannot be charged in that case.

NPYD names suspect in 1994 rape that columnist Mike McAlary claimed was a “hoax”

The rape occurred just days before the woman, then 27, was to participate in a Brooklyn rally opposing anti-LGBTQ violence. McAlary, who died in 1998, wrote three columns that represented the rape as a hoax, the woman as a liar, and said that she was going to be arrested.

She sued and was represented by Martin Garbus, a noted First Amendment attorney who previously only represented publishers in libel cases. In his 1998 book, “Tough Talk: How I Fought for Writers, Comics, Bigots, and the American Way,” Garbus devoted an entire chapter to the case.

Garbus wrote that in earlier legal proceedings unrelated to the woman’s libel lawsuit, McAlary admitted to inventing stories and fabricating quotes to “illustrate” a story. He was deposed twice in the libel case and eventually had to reveal that he had a single source for his columns — John Miller, then the head of the police department’s press office.

In his deposition, Miller, who now heads the NYPD’s counterterrorism unit, disputed that he had ever supported McAlary’s assertions except to say that police first advised reporters to proceed cautiously on the story as the investigation continued.

Rotello, who had previously been the editor-in-chief of OutWeek, an LGBTQ weekly that published from 1989 to 1991, interviewed Miller who told him that McAlary called him after the first column was published saying, “Can you lock this thing down, can you bail me out, can you this, can you that? I’m like, Mike, what the fuck is the matter with you… [W]here do you jump to this conclusion that A, it’s a hoax or B, more outrageously that she’s about to be arrested?”

After Rotello published his column, Miller denied making the comments only to have Rotello produce a recording of the conversation.

“It made quite a splash at the time, and the next day John Miller called me up at home and apologized to me,” Rotello told Gay City News. “None of that helped the victim.”

A police department vehicle patrols Lookout Hill. | DUNCAN OSBORNE

In an initial and stunning reiteration of McAlary’s 1994 lies, the Daily News repeated those falsehoods in its 2018 story on the revelation that Webb is the likely perpetrator of the 1994 rape, writing, “Many initially had their doubts about the victim’s claims in the Prospect Park rape case, especially Daily News columnist Mike McAlary, who said at the time that police sources had told him the woman had made up the attack.”

McAlary was alone in doubting the woman and, at the time, three Daily News reporters “warned their editors that some of their police contacts disputed the accuracy of [McAlary’s] account,” Garbus wrote in his book. In 1994, 30 members of the Daily News reporting staff signed a petition calling McAlary’s first column “a disgrace” and demanding that the paper issue a public apology to the woman and the newspaper’s readers, Garbus wrote.

Yesterday’s Daily News story has since been updated to say, “Her account was quickly met with skepticism by some cops and Mike McAlary, a columnist for The News whose doubts were fueled by accounts from police sources.”

The Daily News, which did not respond to an email asking if it was standing by McAlary’s columns, said in its 2018 story that McAlary relied on “police sources,” “some cops,” and “detectives.”

The libel suit was dismissed in 1997 and the woman elected to not pursue an appeal, though Garbus believed an appeal would be successful. The judge in the case, Charles Ramos, remains on the bench in Manhattan Supreme Court.