Rape cases underscore difficulty for investigators

Paul Carmichael is charged with the kidnapping, rape, and assault of two women. Paul Carmichael is charged with the kidnapping, rape, and assault of two women.
By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / November 9, 2008
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Two weeks after a Brighton woman led police to the door of her alleged rapist this summer, he remained free on the streets - and allegedly raped again.

Despite the help of the first victim, who submitted to a medical exam and identified where he lived, Boston police said they lacked enough evidence to arrest the man. They knocked on his door, but left when he did not answer, according to a prosecutor. A Boston police spokeswoman declined to give any details about the investigation, including whether they ever returned, monitored the white apartment building where he lives, researched his extensive criminal record, or even learned the man's name, before the second attack allegedly occurred.

The fact that police allowed him to remain free left the victim of the second rape, a 25-year-old Cambridge woman, bewildered and alarmed.

"I don't know what kind of proof they needed," she said in Spanish during a telephone interview. "Maybe they thought, that with her evidence, they couldn't get him and I had to be hurt so that something could happen."

The case also has shaken some residents living in the Allston and Brighton area, a district that has seen the number of rapes and attempted rapes double from 13 to 26 between January and Sept. 28, compared with the same time period last year.

"What confidence can any woman have that the sexual assault unit is capable and willing to follow up on a crime with any degree of seriousness if when the evidence is handed to them on a silver platter, they can't follow through and arrest the perpetrators," said Joanne D'Alcomo, a lawyer who has lived in Brighton for 34 years and is active in the community.

Police and victim advocates said the case underscores the difficulty of investigating and prosecuting rape cases, which often involves one person's word against the other's. Even when there is DNA evidence or positive identification of the attacker, the defense can simply say that the sex was consensual or make the case that the victim is not credible. Sometimes, they said, it is only a second attack that can provide the evidence of a pattern and the possibility of a conviction.

The first victim, a 28-year-old Brighton woman, was assaulted July 5, after a stranger allegedly approached her on Commonwealth Avenue while she was taking her morning walk, according to court documents. He allegedly pulled her into his apartment, where he tried to strangle her, raped her for an hour, then let her go. During the attack, Nirvana's "Rape Me" played in the background. The woman went to police later that night to report the rape.

But police did not arrest the alleged attacker, 38-year-old Paul Carmichael of Allston, until July 22, a day after the second attack, which unfolded in much the same way, with the same music playing. Carmichael, who has a long criminal record, including a 1992 rape charge that was dismissed, was arraigned Oct. 24 for the kidnapping, rape, and assault of the two women this summer. He pleaded not guilty to the charges, and was held on $750,000 cash bail.

Eduardo Masferrer, Carmichael's lawyer, said his client "vigorously asserts his innocence."

The department's sexual assault unit declined to provide details of the investigation, citing the victims' privacy and the sensitivity of the case.

But Elaine Driscoll, spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department, did say that detectives were not immediately sure that the attacker lived in the apartment where the assault allegedly occurred.

"The sexual assault unit is confident that they were taking every possible step to determine the exact facts and circumstances surrounding the initial incident, including the identification of the suspect," she said.

Even though the victim consented to a physical exam, with the use of a rape kit that detected semen, Driscoll said investigators did not have enough evidence to make an arrest.

"A rape kit can confirm intercourse. Unfortunately it can't always confirm whether it was consensual," Driscoll said. "The fact is that we took this victim's allegations very seriously and immediately moved forward with a methodical investigation . . . Sadly, the information we needed to effect an arrest presented itself in the most unfortunate way, which was another victim."

It was unclear from court documents or the police report whether there were any visible signs of force, such as bruising around the neck, on the first victim.

Margot Hill, a retired deputy superintendent and former head of the sexual assault unit, said cases are often thrown out if they are based only on witness identification. Arresting someone immediately can destroy a case, she said.

"You need restraint in order to get these people. You can't go half-cocked," Hill said. "It can't be like 'Law and Order: SVU' and crashing down doors."

But that can give accused rapists a terrifying advantage, said Lydia Watts, executive director of the Victim Rights Law Center in Boston, which provides legal services to rape victims.

"Unfortunately, it's all too common when an assailant who has not been held accountable, it will almost fuel their activities," she said. "When the legal system doesn't respond showing that this is a violation of the law, that this is not something that society will condone, we're delivering the opposite message and quite frankly, placing all of us at harm."

In this case, according to court documents, it appears that the 25-year-old from Cambridge suffered the consequences.

Late on July 21, prosecutors say, Carmichael lured the woman, whom he had known for about a year, back to his apartment. The two shared drinks, but when he tried to assault her, she fought back, kicking, biting, and punching him, according to prosecutors. She reported the assault to police that night. This was a consensual sexual encounter, Masferrer said in an interview less than a week after Carmichael's Oct. 24 arraignment, but he said he could not comment on the first case because he did not know enough about it. Carmichael learned he was a suspect in the first rape on Sept. 12, when he appeared for an arraignment on the second assault, Masferrer said.

"From my review of the initial discovery, [police] did not know that Mr. Carmichael was the suspect until after July 22," he said. Masferrer said that he and his client were not given details from police about the first assault and how police were implicating him, until Carmichael's Oct. 24 arraignment.

This indicates, he said, that there was very little - if anything - connecting his client to the first rape.

The second victim said she was grateful for the fast arrest.

"If they hadn't arrested him, I would have left Cambridge, I would have hidden," she said. "I would have had to, just to go on with my life."

Gina Scaramella, head of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, said it is infuriating that two women were raped before someone was caught, but she said it is unfair to blame police.

"Part of the police's job is to ensure that when they do arrest the person that it sticks and if they arrest too early it won't," she said. "This is a tragic outcome to think that it might have been prevented. But it's also true that they might have arrested him and had to release him after a day."

Maria Cramer can be reached at

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