A D.C. Superior Court judge has dicided that Gloria Whipple, the 51-year-old Washington artist who died in 1979 after she was brutally beaten on the Mall, may have only "fantasized" that she had been raped even though shortly after the attack she told a policeman that she had been.
As a result, Judge Carlisle E. Pratt yesterday denied a prosecutor's request that Whipple's statement to a U.S. Park policeman who found her sitting on the curb after the attack be introduced into the trial of two men charged with her murder and rape.
Pratt apparently agreed with a defense claim that since up to an hour might have passed between the time that Whipple was assulted and when she was found by the police officer, her statement that she had been raped was inadmissible as evidence because she might not actually have meant to say that she had been raped, instead of merely being assaulted or sexually molested.
". . . There is a question as to whether or not [rape] happened a few minutes before that time or whether she sat on the curb for an hour and fantasized," Pratt said. "It would certainly require an extremely naive human being to believe this was not a situation that would be subject to great fantasies."
Government prosecutors immediately appealed Pratt's ruling to the D.C. Court of Appeals, thereby delaying the trial of the two 20-year-old men charged with murdering Whipple, Roy Anderson Leasure and Charles Patterson Perkins. Both face charges of murder, rape, robbery, burglary and sodomy in connection with Whipple's death and that of the 34-year-old Navy petty officer George K. LaRoach.
Whipple was attacked shortly after she left an art class at a Smithsonian Institution musueum on Sept. 17, 1979, and died after being in a coma; at George Washington University Hospital for 18 days. LaRaoch was strangled in his Southeast Washington apartment two hours after the attack on Whipple.
Pratt's ruling, if upheld by the appellate court, could hurt the government's prosecution of the rape charge and a murder charge based on the rape charge. However, the prosecution presumably could continue its case based on other evidence, such as physical injuries to Whipple, and introduction of a statement allegedly made by one defendant implicating himself.
However, it was Pratt's statements on Whipple's possible state of mind regarding the rape that drew strong reaction. Donna Lenhoff, a staff attorney with the Women's Legal Defense Fund, said, "Regardless of whether the judge has legitimate doubts as to the credibility or competence of her [Whipple's] statement, even if he meant, the fact that he attributed his doubt to 'sexual fantasies' on her part betrays an underlying sexism."
According to a court transcript of the hearing, which took place Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Aorney Paul N. Murphy responded to Pratt: "Well, I don't want to go into definitions of female fantasies. I just find it hard to believe that someone in that condition would want to make something like that up."
"I won't argue the facts with you . . .," Pratt replied. "I would suspect that a lady in her position in the park at that hour of the night gets grabbed, the first thing she thinks of is the subject, and the subject and the object is me, and the purpose is rape.
"She may be surprised," Pratt continued, "that it's murder instead, but she certainly thinks it's rape first."
Defense attonrey G. Allen Dale, who represents Leasure, said Pratt's comment was being misinterpreted. "I don't feel the judge, in using the work 'sexual fantasy,' was being derogatory to the victim or women in general about having sexual fantasiess, but was merely referring to the late evening, the location and the fact that she had been allegedly beaten and allegedly brutally attacked and sexually molested, which led her to use words and draw a legal conclusion as to what had happened to her."
Pratt's ruling sustained a defense objection that the government had not shown that Whipple's statement was a proper exception to a rule prohibiting hearsay statements to be introduced as evidence.