Mike Tyson Trial: 1992

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Mike Tyson Trial: 1992

Defendant: Michael Gerard Tyson
Crimes Charged: Rape, criminal deviant conduct, and confinement
Chief Defense Lawyers: Kathleen I. Beggs, Vincent J. Fuller, and F. Lane Heard
Chief Prosecutors: David Dreyer, J. Gregory Garrison, and Barbara J. Trathen
Judge: Patricia J. Gifford
Place: Indianapolis, Indiana
Dates of Trial: January 26-February 10, 1992
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: 10 years imprisonment

SIGNIFICANCE: As with his colorful and controversial boxing career, Mike Tyson's trial-saturated with titillating accounts of sex and violent assaultwas eagerly followed by fans and foes alike, although subsequent events would return him to the headlines.

At age 25, Mike Tyson had already won and lost the world heavyweight boxing championship. Seemingly on the verge of challenging to regain his crown, in July 1991 he attended the Black Expo in Indianapolis. One of the scheduled events was the Miss Black America pageant and one of the contestants was Desiree Washington, the 18-year-old Miss Rhode Island. Tyson, whose fondness for and occasional problems with attractive young women were well documented, invited Washington to his hotel room. Around 2:00 a.m. on July 19, she agreed. Three days later Washington went to the police. What she had to say resulted in Tyson facing charges of rape and related offenses.

Once the jury was impaneled on January 29, and after Judge Patricia J. Gifford had denied a request from Tyson's chief attorney, Vincent J. Fuller, that the accuser's sexual history be admitted into evidence, it was time for the opening statements.

Prosecutor J. Gregory Garrison delivered a ringing indictment of the defendant. "This man," he said, pointing at Tyson, "is guilty of pinning that 18-year-old girl to a bed and confining her callously and maliciously raping her even though she cried out in pain."

Fuller, on the other hand, depicted a calculating vixen "mature beyond her 18 years," sophisticated and poised and out for money, an educated overachiever more than a match for a high-school dropout like Tyson. To be sure, Washington's level of sophistication had unnerved prosecutors before the trial, but when it came time for her testify she did so in a childlike voice, peppering her speech with expressions like "yukky."

She described receiving a phone call from Tyson at 1:36 a.m. Minutes later, believing herself to be en route to a party, she joined Tyson in his limousine. As soon as she entered the car Tyson grabbed her: "I kind of jumped back because I was surprised that, being who he is, he acted like that and, besides, his breath smelled kind of bad."

Instead of the expected party, they drove to Tyson's hotel. Once inside his room Tyson resumed his advances. At that point, Washington said, she told him that she was "not like the girls he must be used to hanging out with." Tyson, undeterred, pinned her down on the bed with one arm and used his free hand to undress her. All the while, she said, he mocked her efforts to resist, saying, "Don't fight me. Don't fight me."

Brutal Attack

Then the alleged rape took place. Washington described the pain as "excruciating," and that when she began to cry, "he started laughing like it was a game or something, like it was funny." Then she ran from the room, shoes in hand. Outside she saw Tyson's chauffeur who offered to drive her back to her hotel.

When cross-examined, Washington conceded that on several occasions she had the opportunity to leave the hotel room but chose not to do so. Fuller probed reports that after meeting Tyson, she had told other pageant contestants, "He's rich. Did you see what Robin Givens [Tyson's ex-wife] got out of him? Besides, he's dumb." Washington denied that any such exchange had ever taken place. Neither had she sung "Money, money, money, money, money," from the song "For the Love of Money" to a girlfriend later, as alleged.

Partial corroboration of Washington's story came from the chauffeur, Virginia Foster, 44. When Washington returned to the limousine, said Foster, "She looked like she may have been in a state of shock dazed, disoriented. She seemed scared." (Earlier the defense had successfully petitioned to have disallowed as evidence Foster's claim that Tyson had been sexually aggressive toward her also. No charges were ever filed.)

Dr. Thomas Richardson, the emergency room physician who examined Washington more than 24 hours after the incident, confirmed the presence of abrasions "consistent with forced or very hard intercourse."

Earlier prosecution comparisons between Tyson's menacing bulk and Washington's slight 98-pound stature came into stark relief as the defendant took the stand. He began by saying that everything had taken place with Washington's full cooperation and consent. Asked by Fuller if he forced himself upon her, Tyson replied, "No, I didn't. I didn't violate her in any way, sir."

In graphic terms Tyson described the encounter, but denied Garrison's claims that he had willfully misled Washington, insisting she had been aware of his sexual intentions beforehand and had only become annoyed when he remained in bed afterwards and refused to accompany her downstairs. "I told her that was the way it was. I said 'The limousine is downstairs. If you don't want to use the limousine, you can walk.'"

Quizzed by Garrison on why he had urged Washington to wear loosefitting clothes, Tyson admitted that he had planned to have sex in the limousine, and tight-fitting jeans "would have complicated it."

Ten hours of jury deliberation produced a guilty verdict. On March 26, 1992, Judge Gifford passed sentence: 10 years imprisonment, with the last four suspended. With time off for good behavior, Tyson would be eligible for parole in 1995.

Often, in trial by jury, demeanor is everything. In the words of her deputy defense counsel, Barbara Trathen, Desiree Washington made "a great victim" on the stand, demure, almost adolescent. By contrast, Tyson's untutored responses to questioning came across as brutish and arrogant.

After learning on March 71, 1994, that the Supreme Court had refused to hear his appeal, Tyson applied to the Indianapolis Parole Board. On June 13, 1994, a hearing was convened to consider the application. His lawyers, arguing that their client was a rehabilitated man, produced three witnesses who testified that Tyson's attitude behind bars had undergone a change. Under cross-examination, however, all three said they had never heard Tyson admit to raping Washington. Tyson himself was oddly belligerent on this point when questioned. He told the court, "I have done no criminal conduct. The jury said I did."

It was an attitude that cut little ice with Judge Gifford, who had presided over Tyson's trial. She noted that Tyson had failed to meet the legal requirement of completing an educational or vocational course while in prison, which defense lawyers attributed to the constant stream of visitors that made it difficult for Tyson to concentrate. Without Tyson's acknowledgement of his "inexcusable conduct," Judge Gifford was unprepared to grant his parole request.

In March 1995, having served three years behind bars, Tyson was released with four years' probation. Controversy continued to plague the disgraced fighter when, in April 1996, a young woman claimed he had sexually assaulted her in a Chicago nightclub. However, these allegations were later dismissed.

As expected, Tyson resumed his boxing career and on June 27, 1997, he challenged Evander Holyfield for the world heavyweight title. In front of thousands of appalled live spectators at Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden arena and millions more television viewers worldwide, Tyson bit a chunk out of Holyfield's ear and was disqualified from the fight. Soon afterward, the Nevada State Athletic Commission revoked Tyson's boxing license and fined him $3 million (10 percent of his earnings from the fight, the maximum allowable by law).

Just over one year later, on August 31, 1998, Tyson again made the headlines when a car driven by his wife, Monica, was involved in a minor traffic accident with two other vehicles in Gaithersburg, Maryland. An argument broke out between Tyson and the other car operators. One of the drivers, Richard Hardick, 50, alleged that Tyson had attacked him, while the second driver, Abmielec Saucedo, 62, claimed that he had been punched in the face by the boxer. Early speculation that Tyson would settle both incidents out of court proved to be accurate.

Things seemed to settle down for Tyson and on September 9, 1998, he went before the Nevada Athletic Commission, requesting that his license be reinstated. They deferred a decision pending psychiatric evaluations. All five doctors who examined Tyson concurred that he was unlikely to repeat the earbiting incident, and that he had shown genuine remorse for his actions. Guided by this testimony, on October 19, the Nevada Athletic Commission ruled 4-1 to return Tyson's license, although he was warned by Elias Ghanem, the panel's chairman, "This will be your last chance."

Unexpectedly six days later Maryland state's attorney, Robert Dean, resurrected the August "road rage" incident, declaring his intention of pursuing a criminal case against Tyson. On December 1, Tyson pleaded no contest to misdemeanor criminal charges of assault, aware that he risked being returned to prison.

On February 5, 1999, in a Rockville, Maryland, courtroom, despite Tyson's written plea for mercy and the testimony by his victims that they had forgiven his attack, Judge Stephen Johnson ruled in agreement with the warning of prosecutor Carol Crawford that Tyson was "a time-bomb buried in our own backyard," and handed down two concurrent two-year sentences, with all but one year suspended. He also fined Tyson $5,000 and gave him two years' probation after his release from jail.

How long Tyson would actually spend in prison now rested with the original judge, Patricia J. Gifford. If she decided that this latest offense amounted to a parole violation, he could be returned to Indiana to serve the remainder of his sentence. Following the Maryland Parole Commission's decision on Friday, May 21, 1999, to reduce Tyson's sentence to time served, Judge Gifford announced the following Monday that Tyson's probation for the 1992 rape conviction had ended, thus clearing the way for his immediate release from prison.

Colin Evans

Suggestions for Further Reading

"Boxer Mike Tyson Convicted of Rape." Facts On File (February 13, 1992): 97ff.

Jet (February 24, 1992): 16ff.

Oates, Joyce Carol. "Rape and the Boxing Ring." Newsweek (February 24, 1992): 60ff.

Steptoe, S. "A Damnable Defense." Sports Illustrated (February 24, 1992): 92.