• Transcript
  • Show Notes

In this fifth episode of Doing Justice, Preet Bharara’s six-part adaptation of his bestselling book, Preet recounts the story of SueAnn, a sex worker who was brutally assaulted and robbed in her own home. SueAnn was almost denied her day in court — until one SDNY prosecutor connected the dots and found the final piece of evidence to convict SueAnn’s attacker.

NOTE: This episode contains graphic depictions of violence and sexual assault and may not be suitable for all listeners.

Check back next Wednesday for the final episode of the series, which will focus on the inspiring story of Rais Bhuiyan, who tried to save the man who shot him.

To listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, click here.

To listen and subscribe on Spotify, click here.

Click here to purchase the paperback of Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law, the bestselling book that inspired the podcast.

Doing Justice is produced in collaboration with Transmitter Media. This episode was written and produced by Shoshi Shmuluvitz. We had production help from Jessica Glazer. Our editor is Sara Nics and executive producer is Gretta Cohn. The executive producer at Cafe Studios is Tamara Sepper. And the chief business officer is Geoff Isenman. The reenactments of SueAnn’s testimony were voiced by Erin Nicole Lundquist. Meral Agish fact checked this episode. And Hannis Brown composed our original music and was our mix engineer for this series.

Preet Bharara:

Hey folks, I thought you should know, this episode recounts a violent attack and sexual assault. It may not be suitable for all listeners. 

Operator:

911 where’s the emergency?

SueAnn:

Please, please, somebody just tried to shoot me. Please

Operator:

Okay, ma’am, you’ll have to calm down so I can hear you.

Preet Bharara:

On the morning of November 12th, 2013, at about 10:30AM, SueAnn was dragged out of her bed, tied up, threatened, brutally assaulted, and robbed.

SueAnn:

I don’t know, I was asleep. All of a sudden I saw a gun to my head. They ripped me out of my bed, ripped me to the floor, they duct taped me, they ransacked my– 

Preet Bharara:

They left with her wallet, phones and ID. 

Operator:

You don’t know which way they went? Any description of them? Did you see any clothing? Description? Black, white, Hispanic? 

SueAnn:

They were Black. They have a gun on them. [groans]

Operator:

The police are coming.

Preet Bharara:

SueAnn was a sex worker… an escort — a successful one. In the past, she’d been a drug user and served time for possession. 

But by the time of the robbery, she was out on parole. She was clean. She had a place to live. SueAnn was making good money on her own, and she was proud of it. 

The robbery happened just as things in SueAnn’s life were starting to look up.  

The thing is, people like SueAnn — poor people who’ve been in jail, whose businesses are illegal or illegitimate — they often learn not to expect justice when they’re the victim of a crime. 

And a lot of the time, the justice system doesn’t work for them. It might not help them when they are wronged, or bring them closure, or even treat them with basic human dignity. It might trip them up, it might harass them, it might consume them. The justice system should not be this way… but too often, it is.  

I’m Preet Bharara and this is Doing Justice. Today… how SueAnn got her day in court. 

Tatiana Martins was a federal prosecutor on SueAnn’s case, and she says the first thing you notice about SueAnn is her big personality. 

Tatiana Martins: 

She’s somebody who I think in one breath could be, you know, mad, angry, and in other breaths, funny, bawdy, // irreverent. 

Preet Bharara:

SueAnn has bipolar disorder…. AND epilepsy. she’d have seizures that were brought on by stress. Tatiana says SueAnn had tough circumstances growing up, but she was charismatic, even magnetic.

Tatiana Martins: 

She told funny stories. She was extremely candid. 

I mean, she had no problem, you know, describing exactly what she did in her line of profession. You know, she talked about how men really liked her because she had false teeth and she would remove her teeth when she was with men. I mean, you know, she took out her teeth once and she, you know, showed me 

Preet Bharara:

SueAnn was living with her girlfriend, Maria. The apartment was cramped, and SueAnn was saving up money to move into a new place, a better one. she needed enough for a security deposit and rent, maybe some new furniture. It was all part of the new life she was building. 

SueAnn’s business was a cash business, and she was stashing what she earned in her room.

At the time SueAnn was robbed and attacked, she had $19,000 in cash hidden in a couple of large plastic storage bins.  

Sean Butler: 

So we get called to respond to the scene of a home invasion robbery over on 632 Nereid Avenue. 

Preet Bharara:

Sean Butler is a detective in the NYPD. He was sent to SueAnn’s apartment after she called 911. By the time he got there, SueAnn had already been taken to the hospital for her injuries.

Sean Butler: 

So at the time when I arrived, there were multiple units on the scene. I had gone upstairs to the apartment. The room was dishevelled. There was a lot of things knocked around. Bed, you know, obviously sheets on the floor. 

Preet Bharara: 

The rest of the apartment looked… fine. Not torn apart like SueAnn’s room. 

Sean Butler: 

As a detective, those are some things. Some of the things we look for. Why is the rest of the apartment, you know, pretty much untouched? And why is her bedroom not her roommates bedroom, in disarray?

Preet Bharara: 

Butler says home invasions tend to be targeted. And when one room is ransacked and the rest aren’t, there’s a reason.

While the other police officers continued to search the area for clues, Butler went to see SueAnn to find out what she knew. She was in the hospital, with a broken nose and broken rib, bruised up and wearing a neck brace. She was so badly beaten, she’d need to spend the next 10 days in the hospital.

Sean Butler: 

SueAnn was in stable condition, but she was assaulted, and physically, you know, physically battered. She was pistol whipped several times. Kicked, punched, I mean you name it. Her voice was very unsteady when I first spoke to her. 

Preet Bharara: 

She said, that morning, she was alone in the apartment, asleep, when two men barged in – a bigger guy and a smaller guy. They were both wearing masks. 

This is a reenactment of what she said:

SueAnn (reenactment):

I was ripped out of my bed by my hair and a gun to my head. The bigger guy ripped me to the floor and started kicking me. They put me on my belly, and they duct-taped my legs, my arms, and my mouth. They kept asking me where the money was. 

They found my wallet. There was $480 in my wallet. The bigger guy kicked me again and called me a fucking bitch, because it wasn’t all the money. I told him that was all the money there was. He told me no, he knew there was $19,000 in the house. 

Preet Bharara: 

In the midst of the mayhem, with the guys wearing masks, there was something familiar to SueAnn about the bigger guy… she recognized his voice.

SueAnn (reenactment):

I told him the money was in Maria’s room. He said, Bitch, I know the fucking money is not in Maria’s room, it’s in this room. The other gentleman turned around and said to him, Just shoot her. 

The bigger guy beat me three times in the head with the gun. 

And then I got the copper taste, which means I’m getting ready to have a seizure. 

Preet Bharara: 

Remember, SueAnn’s seizures were sometimes triggered by stress… and when a seizure started, she blacked out.

SueAnn (reenactment):

When I came to from my seizure, I was on my bed, no panties, no pants. [The bigger guy] was zipping up his pants.

The [smaller] man turned around and said just kill her. I heard the gun cock back. The gun never went off. I don’t know if the gun jammed or what happened but the gun never went off. 

Preet Bharara:

Finally, she relented and told them where most of the money was. They grabbed $11,000. But the big guy wasn’t done… he walked back into her bedroom, tied SueAnn up again, kicked her in the face and broke her nose. 

SueAnn (reenactment):

He said I already kick them fucking false teeth down your throat, bitch. [transcript: 6/24/14 p. 92]

Preet Bharara:

Maria – SueAnn’s girlfriend – wasn’t in the apartment that morning because she had plans with her ex-boyfriend, a guy who everyone called Bam. Maria and Bam were still friends and he wanted to meet up that morning. 

He called her a few times, asking where she was; was she at home; could she meet him in another neighborhood. She went out to see him. But Bam… never showed.

SueAnn called Maria after the attack, and when she heard what happened, Maria rushed home. 

When the police arrived, one of the officers looked at Maria’s phone, at her most recent calls and asked, “Who’s Bam?”

And that’s when it clicked for SueAnn… the bigger guy’s voice… it was Bam’s! She started crying and said, “That’s the name. That’s the voice. That’s the motherfucker that was here.” She recognized it because he’d just been over at their apartment, hanging out. SueAnn had bragged to him about how good she was at her job, the money she made, even her false teeth. She was sure it was him. 

Immediately after the attack, while the paramedics treated SueAnn in her apartment, patrol officers did a sweep of the area around the crime scene. 

They picked up a man who matched SueAnn’s description of the smaller guy: a black man wearing gray jeans and a hoodie. They showed him to SueAnn, and asked, Is this the guy?

Sean Butler: 

She had turned around and, and, and said, yeah, that looks, that looks like the second guy. 

Preet Bharara:

Now, it wouldn’t have been easy to identify the attacker — SueAnn couldn’t have gotten a good look at him. He was wearing a mask. 

Sean Butler: 

And remember she was assaulted. she’s going through a lot. I mean, she’s crying. you know. 

And I go back to the 47 precinct station house to go and interview this person. And and it doesn’t always happen this way, but the old, the old gut feeling like when you look in an interview room, if the, you know, the guy’s guilty, if he’d sit and, you know, lying in there, sleeping, you know. This person was immediately, he was pacing the floor. You know, from my experience of interviewing people, I kind of thought from the beginning. I said, I don’t know if he’s the guy. 

Preet Bharara:

Butler pieced together the suspect’s alibi and it all checked out. The man SueAnn had identified? He was the wrong guy. 

Butler says that robbery cases often depend on identifications and confessions. They would need a solid ID from SueAnn, or a confession from a suspect, or at least surveillance video footage of a suspect near the crime scene. 

This case? It didn’t have any of that. It only had SueAnn’s statement about recognizing the voice of one of the attackers. And mere voice identifications don’t carry much weight in a trial. 

Now SueAnn wasn’t an easy witness. Past convictions, sex work, mental health problems… all sorts of prejudices can get in the way of judges and juries believing what victims have to say.

After SueAnn misidentified the smaller guy, her credibility as a witness dropped even further. 

With nothing more than a voice ID from a challenging witness, the Bronx would need some kind of hard physical evidence… like finding the stolen goods in a suspect’s possession… to make a case stick.

The Bronx D.A. did try to bring a case against Bam with the evidence they had, but a grand jury declined to indict. The Bronx D.A.’s office could have worked on the case some more, gathered more evidence and tried again, but they decided not to move forward with it. That misidentification was too damaging to SueAnn’s credibility.

Without more evidence, the DA’s office dropped it. 

But Detective Butler couldn’t let it go. He couldn’t forget what SueAnn had been through.

Sean Butler: 

One of the most painful things to go through, obviously, you know, is a rape. Never mind having someone put a gun to your head and being pistol whipped. 

 I felt that, you know, especially in this case, you know, this person who did this is a real bad guy. He’s not going to stop or maybe he’s done it before. 

She’s a victim. no matter what her background is. She’s a victim. She’s a New Yorker. She’s somebody, you know, who could be my neighbor. So I don’t know. I never look at things as like you know, ‘she’s a prostitute. Ugh. who cares.’ You know, I know, I never looked at things that way. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings and we deserve to at least have someone fight for us. 

Preet Bharara: 

Butler spent the next couple of weeks coming up with a plan. This case was already dead on the state level

But what if it could become a federal case? Robbery, rape, assault: these are all state crimes. But there are exceptions. Like, if an assault occurs on federal land, inside of a national park, then it would be a federal crime. Or if a robbery interferes with interstate commerce — that’s doing business between different states — then that robbery can become a federal crime.

In other words — let’s say someone robs a corner store in New York. And the milk that deli sells comes from a farm in New Jersey. And the money that was stolen from the till was the proceeds from that New Jersey milk. Believe it or not, that affects interstate commerce.

Butler had worked on a few cases like that with my office, SDNY – the federal prosecutor’s office in Manhattan. And those cases gave him an idea. 

He called up SueAnn and asked her a question:

Sean Butler: 

Where are your clients coming from? And do clients come from New Jersey and do they come from Connecticut, outside the state? 

Preet Bharara: 

If any of SueAnn’s clients came in from a different state, then the robbery could be an interstate commerce case.

SueAnn said yes, she did have clients from New Jersey and Connecticut. Interstate commerce!

So Butler brought the case to my office, and with his help, we started a federal investigation. But we still had the problems the Bronx DA had encountered… a difficult witness and not a lot of evidence.

Tatiana Martins: 

 So, you know, really it was, can we corroborate in any way what the victim is saying here?

Preet Bharara: 

Tatiana Martins – one of the prosecutors on the case – says the first step/ was to find out/ if there was any evidence / to back up SueAnn’s claim/ that Perpetrator #1 was Bam. 

Tatiana Martins: 

She didn’t see his face. He was wearing a mask. It was really a voice identification, and sort of information from the victim that he would have known that she had that kind of money. But we really needed to be able to understand, is there a way for us to corroborate that information with more hard evidence.

Preet Bharara:

We got the GPS data from Bam’s cell phone – we needed to see where he was on the morning of the attack. 

Sure enough, he was in SueAnn’s neighborhood. 

Tatiana Martins: 

And so when you see that GPS data, you know, pinging, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. From his area. Boom, boom to, up to that, the vicinity, as I say, a few blocks within that apartment and back down, there was no other reason that we knew for him to be up there in that time period in particular, early morning hours of a particular day. And so to us, that was pretty good evidence for an indictment.

Preet Bharara: 

Two months after the attack, we arrested Bam — his real name is Lamont Rolle. When Butler interviewed him, Bam denied the whole thing. But when he was arrested, agents took everything he had on him–his wallet, his cell phone–all of it seized as evidence. 

We brought the GPS data to a grand jury and Bam was indicted for armed robbery. We couldn’t charge him with rape or assault though — only the Bronx DA could have done that.

But we went ahead with what we had. SueAnn was the key witness; she would have to take the stand. This would be complicated for a few reasons: first, we had to gain SueAnn’s trust. 

Tatiana Martins: 

You know, she would sit with her arms crossed, right. Sitting back in her chair, kind of looking at me, you know, over the tops of her eyes. She was hesitant to, you know, really open up and that she was suspicious of, you know, my ability to, I think, tell her story or to vindicate her in court, initially. 

Preet Bharara:

SueAnn had been on the other side of the law before, she served time for drug possession. It took awhile for her to come around to believing that law enforcement was working WITH her, not against her.  

Another problem: bias. There would be questions in court about SueAnn’s credibility – because of her work, her drug history, and her past problems with the law.  

Tatiana Martins: 

How are jurors going to feel about this and are jurors going to say, you know what you play in that world, you better face the consequences, right? If you’re going to choose to do something illegal, high risk, like having different men into your apartment, then you gotta deal with the consequences. And I’m sure there are people who think that way. 

Preet Bharara: 

If just one juror refuses to convict, that’s a hung jury… a mistrial. Just one juror’s prejudices could tank the whole case. 

Tatiana was worried that Bam’s lawyers would use those prejudices against SueAnn in their cross examination.  

Tatiana Martins: 

I was incredibly concerned that there was going to be a lot of slut shaming. And that this was going to be a ‘put the victim on trial’ kind of trial.

Preet Bharara:

SueAnn had already been through so much. She was still dealing with the trauma of the attack. And talking about in front of the man who attacked her could re-victimize her and re-traumatize her. Would she be able to be clear? To seem credible to people on the jury who might be inclined not to believe her? 

Tatiana Martins: 

She thought that she would be so nervous about him in terms of reliving it, that, you know, it would, it would trip her up and she would start crying or she would start shaking or whatever it was up on the stand. So she was, she was afraid of him.

Preet Bharara:

But, that didn’t stop SueAnn. She was angry. She wanted justice. And that outweighed her fear. When Tatiana and her trial partner asked SueAnn if she wanted to take the stand..?

Tatiana Martins: 

Yes, she definitely expressed her desire to testify. She was committed to it from the beginning.

She expressed her desire to, you know, say what happened to her in public because she thought, you know, he never thought that I would be somebody who would go through with this, because the money was from prostitution. 

Preet Bharara:

We were going to trial… we kept looking for hard evidence. After we got the GPS data from Bam’s phone, we started looking at everything else he had on there. 

Tatiana Martins: 

Text messages, pictures, things of that nature that might’ve placed him at the scene. So his text messages were gone from the, from that day, from that morning and before. And, but he did have pictures

Sean Butler: 

Pictures on the phone that showed US currency being fanned out in a hand. 

Preet Bharara:

Butler says it looked like the photos had been taken inside of a car. And they could tell from the metadata that the pictures were taken right after the robbery in SueAnn’s neighborhood. It seemed like this could have been the cash he stole from her…  that he took photos of it during his getaway. 

But how could we prove it was the same cash?

Tatiana Martins: 

So I stared at those pictures for a long time and it struck me at one point that maybe she had pictures of money. Maybe she had pictures of her money.

Preet Bharara:

Did you think that’s a long shot?

Tatiana Martins: 

Total long shot, total long shot. I mean, the fact that she’s gonna have pictures of the money that was stolen and that she still had it, you know, months and months later, and that it would show anything. I mean, of course, total long shot. 

Sean Butler: 

I mean because bills are, obviously they have serial numbers. Who memorizes a serial number on a bill?

Preet Bharara: 

But if SueAnn had photos of the money that was stolen, then we could compare the bills in SueAnn’s photo with the ones in Bam’s photos. Maybe we’d be able to match some of the bills… then we could show that Bam had the stolen goods on him.

Tatiana Martins:  

I think detective Butler asked her, and I remember, I believe he called me and said, you will not believe this. She has pictures of the money. And I was like, What? 

Preet Bharara: 

Why did she have pictures of the money?

Tatiana Martins:  

So as it turns out, she said, well, about a month before the robbery, I got contacted by a pimp. And this pimp was saying to me, you know, I saw your ads on the internet and you can make so much more money. If you work for me. And she said, I’m my own pimp. You know, she didn’t need any man to do that. And she had spread out the cash that she had been saving on her bedspread. And taken a couple of pictures of it and sent it to him, to prove that she can make her own money.

Preet Bharara:

The team downloaded SueAnn’s photos and enlarged them: twenties, fifties and hundreds fanned out on her pink bedspread. 

Tatiana Martins:  

I spent a lot of, a lot of hours staring, on two monitors, kind of one her pictures, the other one, his pictures, trying to match up anything I could. Was there a little crease? Was there a pencil line? Was there anything I could see in terms of the serial numbers, any portion of it? Was there anything distinctive about the bills. And I just spent so much time staring at those pictures and trying to match them up because I thought if I could do that, you know, if I could do that, then forget it. Right? Then it’s over. 

But ultimately I couldn’t, I couldn’t match it up.

Preet Bharara:

So close! But the photos were a dead end. 

We were back where we started: all we had was the GPS evidence and the testimony of a difficult witness. The case was anything but iron-clad. 

In the weeks leading up to the trial, Tatiana had been communicating with Bam’s lawyers. In most cases, this is the point when we’d be talking about a plea deal

Not this time: Bam’s lawyers were not interested in a plea.

Tatiana Martins:  

The posture was always: drop the case. You have nothing here or we’ll see you at trial. And in fact, in one of the phone calls with defense counsel leading up to the trial, defense counsel said that my witness was so problematic and so damaged they couldn’t wait to rip her apart in cross examination.

So I was nervous. I was nervous about it.

Preet Bharara:

Tatiana put all her effort into preparing SueAnn and Maria to testify in court. Prepping witnesses is standard practice — we always do it before a trial. In this case, Tatiana knew that the defense counsel would attack SueAnn, and try to get a rise out of her in the cross examination. She had to practice keeping her cool, not getting defensive. And she had to break her typical New Yorker habit of constantly interrupting people. 

They also talked about how they were going to present SueAnn’s story, her past and her profession, her medical conditions and mental health… AND her memories of the attack. 

Tatiana was clear: 

Tatiana Martins:  

You don’t have to make it perfect. The story is complicated. Your life is complicated. You’re complicated. I get all that. You know, problematic things, damaged stories. They’re more credible in my mind. You know, the world is not perfect. Things don’t happen perfectly. And so maybe you don’t remember certain things. You don’t have to try to pretend you remember, right. 

It’s actually more credible that you don’t remember certain things.

Preet Bharara:

Tatiana did what any good prosecutor does: she put everything out there, all the details about SueAnn’s life that might prejudice the jury against her. 

She told the judge and jury all about it… before Bam’s lawyers could.

Tatiana Martins:  

Pull the sting out of it. Right? You’re talking about the fact that she’s bipolar or that she has epilepsy, or that she’s lived a difficult life. You’re talking about when she’s on the witness stand, you in your direct examination are eliciting, you know, the past criminal record and And you’re not leaving that up to the cross examiner to bring out before the jury for the first time.

Preet Bharara:

The pressure was on. And Tatiana was determined to get justice for SueAnn. Even though the charge was robbery, there was so much more to it. 

Tatiana Martins:  

Clearly the attack was very violent and it wasn’t just about the money there. There was something there that made Mr Rolle, you know, really kind of take out a significant amount of anger on SueAnn.

Preet Bharara:

SueAnn was in a relationship with his ex-girlfriend… a woman he still went to see – at least until the attack.

Tatiana Martins:  

It is reasonable to think that, you know, he wasn’t happy with her and Maria’s life. It doesn’t make any sense to have that kind of violence when you’re trying to just steal cash from somebody’s bedroom.  It just doesn’t make much sense for that level of violence other than to punish somebody or to exert some sort of power dynamic. 

Preet Bharara:

SueAnn had a thriving business as a sex worker. She had money. She had a girlfriend who Bam may have wanted for himself. Maybe Bam attacked her as some kind of retribution. 

The trial was set for Monday, June 23rd. On the Friday before, just three days ahead of the trial, Tatiana’s partner, Kan Nawaday, suddenly remembered something — 

Bam’s wallet was still sitting in an evidence locker. A wallet with cash still in it…

Tatiana Martins:  

Whoa, there’s some money I didn’t know about, maybe. I could match some of that money to the pictures that SueAnn had. And there was a moment of adrenaline. That you feel in your stomach that sort of rushes up to your throat. Right? And I’m thinking to myself, of course it can’t be, right? Of course it was complete tomfoolery to think that would actually happen, but! 

Preet Bharara:

Another long shot. 

Tatiana Martins:  

It’s a long shot, but it was something that. You know, that moment of just, you know, adrenaline rush and I sort of yelled go get the money, go get the money, go to the vault, get the money! And he came back, you know, I can’t remember if it was an hour later or something like that. And we were in Kan’s office on the fourth floor, some dark office. Kan was behind his standing desk and ah, Butler was there and they pull out the money and spread it out. And I just have this moment of almost, you know, passing out 

Because I recognized at least one or two of those bills.

Preet Bharara:

The first thing she recognized was a serial number. A serial number is 11 figures long — what were the chances that Tatiana was remembering it correctly?

Tatiana Martins:  

And so I said to Khan pull up the pictures, pull up the pictures and he pulls up the pictures on his computer. And, you know, reading the, the serial number out loud and he’s looking, and it is a serial number that matches. And then I immediately see another bill. It had may M A Y written very small at the top of the bill. And I had seen that bill in SueAnn’s pictures. A hundred dollar bill with MAY written on the very top. 

Preet Bharara:

At least two of the bills found in Bam’s wallet matched the ones in SueAnn’s photo. There could be only one explanation: 

Tatiana Martins:  

Bam was the person who did it. And now we had, you know, proof that even a juror who had issues with the prostitution aspects of this, had an issue with the way the witnesses might present on the stand. Even that juror would not be able to look at this and say, you know, this guy is, this is beyond a reasonable doubt.

Now we had a decision to make. 

Preet Bharara:

We could go to trial or we could use this new evidence to try to persuade Bam to take a plea deal. That would save SueAnn from having to take the stand, from reliving the rape and assault. But SueAnn wanted her day in court.

Tatiana Martins:  

We spent so much time on this so much time getting her to this place. She was looking forward to it. I think for the first time in her life, as she said to me, you know, felt like somebody was listening to her and felt like she was on the right side of the law. And she felt like she was being taken seriously. And that was really important.

We decided that the case would go to trial. But what to do about the matching bills?

Preet Bharara:

There are important rules around how the prosecution and the defense need to share evidence related to a case. Basically, as prosecutors, we had to show the defense team all the evidence we had: the 911 call, the GPS data, the photos, the cash from Bam’s wallet — all of it. And we did show them all of it. 

But we didn’t have an obligation to connect the dots for the defense. So… we didn’t.

On Monday morning, Tatiana gave her opening statement. She laid out the case and the evidence she would present. And she talked about how four of the bills in Bam’s wallet matched four of the bills in SueAnn’s photo. And the defense was caught completely flat-footed. They had not made the connection. And they had no rebuttal. 

That day, Tatiana called SueAnn to testify. She sat up in front of the judge, the jury, and the man who’d attacked her… and she was clear, concise, and credible while she told the story of a horrifying attack. 

SueAnn (reenactment): 

They kept asking me where the money was.  They turned around and picked up a glass chessboard. After he beat me three times in the head with the gun, he turned around, took the chessboard and started beating me with it. I guess they thought the money might have been in there, some of the money might have been in there, some of the money might have been all over. The other gentleman again said, Well, if the bitch don’t want to tell you where the money is, kill her.

Tatiana Martins:  

Then cross examination came up and, you know, it was brutal. It was brutal.

Preet Bharara:

Why was it brutal?

Tatiana Martins:  

Because it was putting the victim on trial in the ways that you imagine. It was, things like, you know, you’re good at what you do, right? Your job is to please people. You’re a prostitute, right? And then sort of using that to say you fabricated something that you think people want to hear, but the fact that she was a prostitute, the fact that, you know, she lived this life being the reason why you shouldn’t believe her. 

Preet Bharara:

They brought up SueAnn’s relationship with Maria, the fact that they were two women who were romantically involved. And they tried to capitalize on the messy relationships between SueAnn, Maria, and Bam.

SueAnn was on the stand for 2 days. She was calm and clear the whole time. But she chose not to come back to court for the rest of the trial– she didn’t want to be in the same room as Bam any more than she had to be. 

Finally, we had a verdict. 

Bam was guilty of armed robbery. SueAnn wasn’t in court for the verdict.

Tatiana Martins:  

As soon as I got out of the courtroom, I called her and told her that they’d found him guilty and she let out this wail. And she said she’d fallen to her knees. she, she cried, you know, she was just crying and she said, you know, she couldn’t believe it. She said nobody’s ever believed me before. This is, you know, thank you so much. Thank you so much. And she just kept saying, thank you. 

Preet Bharara:

SueAnn had to go to court one more time, for Bam’s sentencing hearing. The defense presented a tall stack of letters from Bam’s family, all saying he was a good son, a good nephew, a good father, that he was needed at home.

SueAnn responded with her victim impact statement:

SueAnn (reenactment):

Your Honor, I just, I’m going through it. What this gentleman did to me I am still affected to this day by. He ripped me out of bed at gunpoint. He raped me. He beat me. He has no sympathy for what he’s done. I believe that I  went through a lot, and I’m still suffering. I’m still seeing a psychiatrist. I can’t be around other gentlemen because I’m afraid. I’m afraid this man is going to end up getting out and coming  back after me again. At this point I’m still scared. And he came with the intentions, your Honor, of killing me. And the gun jammed on him, is the only reason why I’m standing here in this courtroom today. If not I would be dead and my family would be burying me. And for that, I ask you, your Honor, to please, if possible, give him the max.

Preet Bharara: 

Bam got more than 13 years in federal prison. That’s not the maximum sentence, but it is a hefty one.

Tatiana and I and everyone who worked on this case are proud of the work we did, proud of the way it turned out. And most importantly, proud that we helped SueAnn have her day in court, that she was satisfied with the outcome.

Bam was never convicted of rape or assault. It was impossible for SDNY to bring those charges against him, simply because it wasn’t our jurisdiction. We didn’t have any leads on the identity of Bam’s accomplice, so we couldn’t bring him to trial either.  

But here’s the thing: 13 years in federal prison is a LOT of time for stealing $11,000. And the reason Bam got such a harsh sentence was because of the violence of the attack. The judge took the violence and the sexual assault into account when she decided on a sentence. 

In a way, it may not seem like full justice is being done when a perpetrator is convicted only of the least of their crimes. But here’s another way to think about it. There’s cosmic justice… the ideal of justice.. And then there’s legal justice… the work that we do within the legal system… where we roll up our sleeves…  get into the muck of a real case… and try to get as close as we can to that lofty ideal of justice. 

And part of that ideal is to give the powerless a chance to get justice against perpetrators who are more powerful… and to protect the rights of victims, as well as the accused. 

All through SueAnn’s life, people gave up on her… they didn’t believe her… didn’t respect her. This time, it was different: the jury believed her. SueAnn got justice

From CAFE, this is Doing Justice, produced by Transmitter Media. This episode was written & produced by Shoshi Shmuluvitz, and based on my book, Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment and the Rule of Law, which you can find at doing justice book dot com. 

We had production help from Jessica Glazer. Our editor is Sara Nics and executive producer is Gretta Cohn. 

The executive producer at Cafe studios is Tamara Sepper. And the chief business officer is Geoff Isenman. 

The reenactments of SueAnn’s testimony were voiced by Erin Nicole Lundquist. 

Meral Agish fact checked this episode. And Hannis Brown composed our original music and was our mix engineer for this series. 

I’m Preet Bharara. 

Next time… the legal system was built to give us justice. But it doesn’t always bring us closure. 

Rais Bhuiyan: 

I had two choices: either see myself as a victim or take control of my life, my happiness, and forgive to move forward and rebuild my life.