Protection Order Could Not Save Alleged Rape Victim In NYC
Saturday, March 24th 2007, 1:52 pm
News On 6
NEW YORK (AP) _ Natasha Ramen's last, desperate plea for help was scrawled on a piece of paper she handed to a neighbor _ because she could no longer speak.
A gaping slash bisected her slender throat. Blood pooled outside the front door of her one-bedroom, basement apartment in Queens. The note read: ``Call 911.''
Authorities say her killer was the same man who had raped the 20-year-old woman, nicknamed ``Molly,'' nearly 2 years earlier. They said he had threatened her family, and finally slashed her throat to keep her from testifying against him at his upcoming trial.
Fellow Guyanese immigrant Hemant Megnath, 29, was arrested this past week on charges of first-degree murder and ordered held without bail. His attorney says he is innocent.
The victim's family says the arrest came far too late. They are outraged that Megnath was out on the streets in the first place.
``We are praying for the soul of Molly to haunt him,'' said the victim's uncle, Narine Bharat.
According to authorities, the case had been riddled with complexities from the beginning:
_Ramen had waited several months before reporting the rape, and got married in the interim.
_Because of a slip-up by a prosecutor's office, a judge overseeing the rape case never learned of allegations that Megnath was menacing her in-laws _ possible grounds for raising or revoking his bail.
_Despite the alleged harassment, Ramen herself didn't express any concern about her safety to prosecutors.
``She never told us she was being threatened, or asked for protection,'' said Jerry Schmetterer, spokesman for the Brooklyn District Attorney's office. ``If she had, we would have given it to her in a heartbeat.''
Ramen was a member of a close-knit community of immigrants from Guyana, the former British colony on the northeast coast of South America.
In May 2005, she was looking for an apartment and Megnath, then working for a real estate office, offered to help.
Authorities allege that while they were apartment hunting one day, he persuaded her to stop at his home in Brooklyn, where he raped her. She was only 18.
She got married in October 2005 and didn't report the rape until January 2006. Asked about the delay, family members have suggested that immigration issues and fear of angering her husband _ who authorities say once beat her _ made her reluctant to come forward.
Megnath was arrested in February 2006 and charged with rape. A judge set bail at $5,000 and ordered him to stay away from Ramen, who agreed to testify against him if the case went to trial.
Last October, Megnath was arrested again, accused of telephoning Ramen's in-laws in Queens and threatening to kill them if they didn't tell him where she lived. Family members refused to press charges and the case was dropped.
``I thought if we didn't press charges he would leave us alone and just go away,'' said the victim's father, Robin Ramen.
Queens prosecutors told their counterparts in Brooklyn about the harassment arrest, but the judge on the rape case was never notified _ an ``honest mistake,'' said Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes.
Prosecutors offered Megnath a plea deal, with Ramen's approval, that would have given him six months in jail and 10 years probation. The defendant, fearing deportation, rejected the offer.
Through it all, Ramen hoped to settle into her new marriage and someday become a nurse, her uncle said. ``She came here to search for the American dream,'' he said.
The dream ended Tuesday morning as Ramen left for work as a secretary at a car service. As she reached the top of the steps leading out of her apartment, an assailant grabbed her and slashed her throat. The weapon has not been found.
It was ``a very deep wound, almost from ear to ear,'' said police Lt. Salvatore Salerno. ``It was very brutal.''
A man wearing a hooded sweat shirt was seen running away. Megnath's lawyer, Brian O'Conner, said his client was at home at the time and has a witness who can confirm his alibi.
Witnesses said that before Ramen was put into an ambulance, she was asked if she knew her attacker, and she nodded ``Yes.''
Ramen died 14 hours later at a hospital without speaking another word.