NEW YORK -- A former police officer admitted Thursday that he raped a schoolteacher he grabbed off the street on her way to work, pleading guilty to rape charges that had stymied jurors who convicted him of other high-level sex crimes in the same attack.
Already sentenced to 75 years to life in prison on his March conviction, Michael Pena is to be sentenced next month to at least 10 years for the rape charges. The sentences are set to overlap, but in the event Pena prevails in appealing his 75-year-plus term, he would still be left to serve 10 years to life for the rape.
During his trial, Pena had admitted sexually attacking the 25-year-old woman but steadfastly denied having intercourse with her, a requirement for a rape conviction. She broke down in tears when the jurors deadlocked on the rape charges, though they had convicted him of predatory sexual assault, a top-level felony that involves wielding a weapon during certain sex crimes.
But on Thursday, Pena, 28, softly said "guilty" and admitted that he had forcible intercourse with the woman.
His lawyer said Pena decided to plead guilty to rape to spare the woman's family and his own any further ordeal.
"His priority is not to put his family through any more pain," said the lawyer, Ephraim Savitt. "There's more than one family going through anguish right now."
Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Richard Carruthers said he was accepting the plea deal "to spare the complaining witness the task and the obligation of coming forth to testify in a rape trial" again.
"Michael Pena took responsibility for his violent criminal actions and will serve up to life in prison," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement. " ... It is my hope this resolution brings a brave young teacher a measure of justice and closure."
In trial this spring, the woman testified that a drunken, off-duty Pena accosted her on a street last August, forced her into an Upper Manhattan apartment building courtyard and raped her at gunpoint, threatening to shoot her in the face if she resisted.
She was heading to her first day at a new teaching job. He was wrapping up a drunken night of trying to pick up women, according to evidence at the trial.
"My life has been shattered – my sense of security, my sense of safety, any and all independence," she said when he was sentenced in May to 75 years to life.
Pena told a judge then that he has "no explanation for what happened that day. ... I will just have that guilt for the rest of my life."
Savitt said Pena plans to appeal the 75-year-plus term as excessive.
Pena joined the New York Police Department in 2008. Suspended after his arrest, he was fired shortly after the partial verdict.