A woman with multiple sclerosis says she was knocked out by strangers on a New Jersey street and taken to an abandoned house where she was beaten and raped, and claims that authorities did not take her rape report seriously for weeks.
The alleged victim, who asked to be identified only as Kris, said she fell asleep on a bus on Dec. 5 and wound up lost in downtown Trenton. She got off the bus and tried to look for her route back home to Hamilton when a man began to follow her. Then everything went black, she said.
She woke up inside an abandoned house on Farragut Avenue, on a mattress on the floor, surrounded by dishes and garbage.
“You know when you get a new mattress and it has that plastic sheet on it? I remember that, and my leg hitting plates and dishes and you heard clinking sounds or whatever, and someone was on top of me,” Kris told NBC 4 New York.
She said one of the two men was extremely violent, continuously striking her face and covering her mouth.
The suspects eventually fled. Kris stumbled out onto the street bleeding, her jaw broken and hanging inside her skin. She tried to speak and ask for help.
“Three or four people I first saw, and they wouldn’t give me the time of day," said Kris. "And then I saw four people across the street and … they told me to go away."
She limped for more than a mile and eventually stumbled into Mario and Frank’s Pizzeria along Nottingham Way. Pizzeria owner Frank Colella recalls Kris walking in "shaking, crying, bleeding."
"It was a mess,” he said.
Colella said his workers called 911, and Kris was taken by ambulance to Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center in Hamilton.
At the hospital, a sexual assault nurse performed a rape exam and a Hamilton police detective took preliminary information. Hours later, on the morning of Dec. 6, Kris, a Medicaid patient, was discharged from RWJ and sent home with instructions to go see an oral surgeon.
“This wasn’t just a cut on her hand or a sprain of her ankle. She had five fractures of her face,” said Kris’s mom. “It’s wrong. It’s totally wrong. If it was their family member they would not have sent her home.”
Kris eventually turned to a hospital in Neptune to undergo multiple surgeries to repair her jaw.
In a statement, an RWJ spokesman defended the hospital’s reputation but said it is now conducting a full review of the matter.
“RWJH has a solid reputation for quality health care and patient comfort. And, although we may differ on any claims made, we believe that no patient should have such a negative view of their care at RWJUHH,” the hospital said.
“That is why we have undertaken a thorough review of the facts and continue to reach out to this patient to confidentially discuss those concerns.”
In the meantime, the police investigation that began with a meeting at Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center would be volleyed from Hamilton's police department over to Trenton's because the attack had taken place inside the Trenton city line. Kris and her mother say the first formal police interview about the attack took place on Dec. 23, and a Trenton detective and a Mercer County Prosecutor investigator questioned whether Kris was a prostitute and a drug addict, she said.
She told them that she was a multiple sclerosis patient on a medical pain patch prescribed by her doctor in part for a spine injury she suffered from an MS-related seizure. Her longtime doctor confirmed to NBC 4 New York he'd prescribed a narcotics patch, Fentanyl, due to the injury.
Kris says she gave a detailed account of what she remembered about the rape, but says the detectives began a hostile form of questioning and that they treated it like "it was a big joke and a waste of time."
“When he asked his partner if there was one question they would like to ask, the one and only question he could come up with, out of everything in the book, was: ‘Did you voluntarily pull down the man’s pants before he raped you?’" said Kris.
“They tag-teamed," said Kris. "'Was I out there soliciting? Was I out there buying drugs? Why did I get off the bus at that spot?'"
Kris’s mom said the detectives kept pressing her about her daughter’s illness.
“'You sure about her MS?' That’s all they kept asking me," said Kris' mother. "'Are you sure she didn’t fall and this isn’t MS?' They wanted to turn everything around, make her the victim all over again, and it was crap. Plain and simple crap. They didn’t want to do their job.”
Records show Kris has no criminal history for drugs or prostitution. She had one past shoplifting case where charges were later dismissed.
Trenton police vigorously deny mistreating the family. In a separate statement, the office of Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini said that detectives waited until Kris was out of the hospital on Jan. 9 to do an official interview about the Dec. 5 attack because of her multiple surgeries and complications from them, and that Kris' family had repeatedly turned away investigators until that date.
Kris' family denies that claim and points out that detectives visited her in the hospital on Dec. 23.
The prosecutor’s office said the rape kit taken on Dec. 5 was sent out for testing on Jan. 2. Sperm and pubic hairs were discovered, but DNA results are still not in.
In a statement Tuesday, one day after NBC 4 New York's initial report aired, the Mercer County prosecutor's office said it was expediting analysis of the DNA and expects "a result will be returned by the end of this week."
A spokeswoman added that a sample put into a national database -- or CODIS system -- will be returned next week.
Hal Sherman, a retired NYPD crime scene detective who's investigated more than 2,000 cases in his career, says in cases like this, offenders often have committed previous crimes and their DNA could be in a computer database. He said the DNA profile could have been sent and returned in a matter of days to try to identify any potential suspects.
“The longer it takes in order to solve this case, which really does seem to be a forensic case, the longer it takes to get the bad guys off the street,” Sherman said.
He also wondered why testing wasn't expedited in the first place for a multiple sclerosis patient who was allegedly gang-raped.
New Jersey state attorney general John Hoffman said Tuesday he would look into why the DNA sample was not processed sooner.
Kris’s mother remains angry.
“You go to the police for help, you go to the hospital for help, you expect help from your fellow citizen some way and she got no help all the way around. None," she said.
Jonathan Dienst, Hilary Weissman and Fred Mamoun
NBC 4 New York
March 25, 2014