NEW YORK – An Ivory Coast native accused of holding himself out as a seasoned and suave French-language TV journalist to smooth-talk women was convicted Monday of raping one and harassing three others, but he was acquitted of sexually attacking a fifth.
Hugues-Denver Akassy showed no reaction on hearing the verdict in a trial in which he'd testified over three days, telling jurors the sexual encounters were consensual and the other allegation resulted from misunderstandings. He faces at least five and as many as 25 years in prison at his sentencing, set for Nov. 17.
Defense lawyer Glenn Hardy said Akassy took the result "pretty stoically" and planned to appeal.
Prosecutors said Akassy, 43, charmed the women with a debonair demeanor and a bogus persona, then became a sexually aggressive stalker. They said Akassy, who was homeless, claimed to be buying a brownstone and held himself out as an accomplished journalist on a website rife with plagiarized praise written about real journalists.
"What we're talking about here is a person who initiates every relationship in his life with a falsehood," Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Jessica Troy told jurors in a closing argument last week. "And I submit to you, there is no reason to think he is honest about anything."
Four women testified; the one who said she was raped, a Russian tourist who has returned to her homeland, did not. Those who testified said Akassy struck up conversations with them on the street and other public places around the city. Some said they then met him for wine-and-cheese picnics in parks and other dates before he became threatening with unwanted advances.
When things soured, he often wrote the women profane and vitriolic emails, which jurors saw during the trial. In some cases, Akassy showed up outside the women's apartment buildings or at their workplaces, they and prosecutors said.
Akassy "refused to take no for an answer," District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement.
Akassy testified that the women willingly engaged in the sexual encounters — on a subway grate in a park, in a stairwell of an apartment building. Overall, he and his lawyer said, the accusations were leveled by troubled women who misconstrued and overreacted to his overtures.
"Misinterpretation seems to be a theme that runs through these cases," Hardy told jurors in his summation.
Akassy said he didn't write the now-gone website.
Jurors said they'd focused on the charges, not the question of whether he was faking his professional background, and came away unpersuaded by his alternately elaborate and evasive account of the encounters.
"It was phony," said juror Bob Gorsline, a retired bank information-technology executive.
Still, he and some others said they'd had doubts about the fifth woman's allegation that Akassy forced her to perform oral sex in a stairwell after she agreed to let him see her building's roof deck but rebuffed his request to go to her apartment. Jurors acquitted him of committing a criminal sex act in that encounter.
"We just felt that there were pieces to it, from both sides, that were not coming forward," said juror Lajon S. Daniels, an HIV prevention coordinator for a nonprofit organization.
Hardy, the defense attorney, called that acquittal "a significant win on our part," noting that the sex act charge was as serious as the rape charge of which Akassy was convicted. Akassy also was acquitted of lower-level felony sex-abuse charges related to the rape allegation.
His other convictions, on stalking and harassment charges, are misdemeanors.
Follow Jennifer Peltz at http://twitter.com/jennpeltz
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