A state appellate court on Wednesday affirmed the conviction of a Long Beach man who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2016 for drugging and raping a tourist who stayed in his West End apartment.
State Supreme Court Justice Robert McDonald found Dennis Edison, who was 32 at the time, guilty in October 2016 on felony charges of first-degree rape and sexual abuse after a 10-day trial. Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said Edison’s sentence also included a 20-year post-release supervision.
According to Singas, in November 2015, two female German tourists arrived at Edison’s Long Beach apartment on Indiana Avenue. The women, both 21 at the time, met Edison through couchsurfing.com, and planned on spending several days at his home.
“They believed they would be staying with a fellow traveler, and as tourists, they were excited to be visiting New York and meeting new people,” Singas said at a news conference in Mineola after the sentencing.
As the Herald reported in 2016, Singas said Edison lied about his age on the website and misrepresented his location, claiming that he was in New York City. The first night of the tourists’ stay, Edison cooked dinner for the women, “allowing them to let their guard down,” Singas added.
The next day, Edison, a local bartender, prepared cocktails for the women, who had described feeling disoriented afterward. Edison gave the victim another drink after her friend fell asleep, and she became disassociated from her surroundings, according to Singas.
The victim's last memory was being led to a massage table in Edison’s bedroom, Singas said, and she was incapacitated and became unconscious, consistent with effects of GHB — also known as the date-rape drug — which is colorless and odorless. She woke up with her pants on, oil on her legs, and severe pain in her pelvic area, Singas added.
Singas said that forensic evidence confirmed that Edison, who had initially denied having sexual contact with the victim in a recorded conversation, raped the unconscious woman.
The women, who spent much of that day vomiting, left the next morning. The two contacted the German consulate, and reported the crime to the New York and Long Beach police departments. The victim was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, where she spoke to Long Beach detectives. Edison was indicted by a Nassau County grand jury, and later arrested at his home by Long Beach police.
Elizabeth Spratt, director of toxicology at the Westchester County Department of Labs and Research, testified at the trial that the physical disassociation, pain and vomiting were consistent with ingesting GHB.
Edison, who is serving time in a state correctional facility, filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division. He claimed that the sex was consensual and denied having drugged either women, according to court documents. He also claimed that prosecutors failed to submit sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the woman was unconscious when he had sex with her. He also contended that he was deprived of a fair trial by the "Supreme Court’s questioning of him," and by the prosecutor's cross-examination regarding his prior sexual encounters.
“The prosecutor’s theory was that Mr. Edison had basically drugged the drinks that the young ladies consumed but there was no evidence of that,” Edison’s attorney, Randall Unger, told the Herald. “The theory of the case was really supported by … nothing. There was no drug detected. In my opinion, the trial judge was asking questions of Mr. Edison that were more of a prosecutor’s question than a neutral, objective judge.”
But the Appellate Division’s Second Department rejected Edison's appeal, and ruled that the sentence imposed was “not excessive” and that Edison’s claim that he did not receive a fair trial was “without merit.”
“The state of the victim's physical helplessness at any given moment is largely a question of fact,” the court wrote. “There is no basis to disturb the credibility determination of the Supreme Court, which had the opportunity to view the witnesses, hear the testimony and observe demeanor.”
Singas had said that drug-rape cases are difficult to prosecute because the victim doesn’t have any memory of the crime, and because GHB is untraceable in the bloodstream after six to eight hours.
The appellate court acknowledged that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Edison had drugged the women “beyond a reasonable doubt” to serve as a basis for the conviction.
Still, the court added: “Neither rape in the first degree nor sexual abuse in the first degree requires the victim's physical helplessness to have been caused by drugs. Whether the defendant drugged the complainant or not, the complainant's testimony that she had passed out before, and did not regain consciousness until after, the defendant subjected her to sexual intercourse provided a basis for a rational person to find beyond a reasonable doubt that the complainant was incapable of consent by reason of being physically helpless.”
“Dennis Edison is a profoundly depraved person who drugged an unsuspecting tourist and sexually assaulted her while she was unconscious,” Singas said in a statement to the Herald on Thursday. “We were able to secure a conviction and send Edison to prison — where he belongs — because an extraordinarily brave young woman returned to the United States to testify against this predator. We are thankful that an appeals court affirmed this conviction.”
Unger said he intends to seek permission to appeal the decision from the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.
“The appellate division basically ruled that the evidence was legally sufficient to support the conviction,” Unger said, “obviously a disappointing conclusion for Mr. Edison and myself.”
During the trial, Assistant District Attorney Emma Slane, who prosecuted the case, read a letter submitted from the victim, in which the woman expressed the insecurity and trauma she is now forced to live with.
“Fortunately, this brave woman acted quickly and went to the police on a hunch that she was sexually abused,” Singas said. “This conviction sends a message to women to trust their instincts.”