Strauss-Kahn expected to plead not guilty

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Dominique Strauss-Kahn is expected to plead not guilty Monday to charges that he tried to rape a New York hotel maid, formally launching what could be a bruising campaign to clear his name.

After a humiliating fall from grace, the former IMF chief, touted before the scandal as the likely next president of France, faces arraignment before Judge Michael Obus in New York State Supreme Court on seven sex crime counts.

Although Strauss-Kahn has repeatedly said through his lawyers that he is innocent, Monday is due to be the first time the silver-haired, 62-year-old tells the court himself.

A guilty verdict on all counts could in theory see Strauss-Kahn sentenced to more than 74 years in prison, although the likely term would be much shorter.

But whatever the outcome of the trial, which will probably not start for months, Strauss-Kahn has already seen his reputation and career suffer devastating damage.

The scandal erupted May 14 when a chambermaid at the Manhattan Sofitel said Strauss-Kahn chased her naked through his luxury suite, then brutally forced her to perform oral sex.

Hours later Strauss-Kahn was pulled off a departing Air France plane at John F. Kennedy Airport. He was interrogated and paraded, handcuffed, in the traditional "perp walk" before journalists, then remanded in an isolation wing of the rough Rikers Island prison.

The wealthy French politician, whose wife is a multi-millionaire art heiress, quickly resigned as head of the International Monetary Fund and began organizing his defense.

After four nights in Rikers he was granted $1 million cash and $5 million bond bail and allowed to start a new life under house arrest. His rented residence, a $50,000 a month house in the trendy TriBeCa neighborhood, boasts four bedrooms, a home theater and rooftop terrace.

Defending Strauss-Kahn is Benjamin Brafman, a lawyer to the stars with a formidable reputation. The team also reportedly includes Guidepost Solutions, a secretive company brought in to investigate the alleged victim.

Prosecutors are making a huge priority of the case, which comes on the heels of their failure last month to win a conviction in the high-profile trial of two policemen accused in the rape of a drunk New Yorker in her apartment.

The trial team previously led by Artie McConnell has been reinforced to include two senior prosecutors, Joan Illuzzi-Orbon and Ann Prunty. Illuzzi-Orbon is head of the Manhattan District Attorney's hate crimes unit.

A series of leaks indicates that police collected considerable physical evidence from the crime scene and medical examinations of both the alleged victim and the accused. Media outlets also reported the discovery of sperm traces on the maid's shirt.

Those leaks sparked a tense exchange between Brafman and prosecutors in dueling letters filed with the court.

In their complaint about the leaks, the defense lawyers hinted at a possible trial strategy of trying to undermine the maid, who will be the main prosecution witness.

Brafman claimed to possess "substantial information that in our view would seriously undermine the quality of this prosecution and also gravely undermine the credibility of the complainant in this case."

In another hint of strategy, defense lawyers have suggested that any sex may have been consensual.

The arraignment hearing on Monday is a milestone in the trial process but only the first.

Unless Strauss-Kahn surprises by pleading guilty -- something defendants may do if prosecutors reduce charges to incur a lighter sentence -- Monday will lead to a legal marathon.

Ron Kuby, a New York defense attorney with experience in high-profile cases, said a trial might start in a few months at best, depending on whether the defense tries to delay proceedings.

Delays can help defense teams because crime witnesses become less clear over time.

"They can obstruct and delay for many, many months and the case won't be tried till sometime next year," Kuby said.

However, the judge in a big case "tends to want to move things along to make it look like it's functioning."

© 2011 AFP

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