NEW YORK (AP) — An ex-convict whose violent history terrified his West Virginia hometown admitted Tuesday that he raped a septuagenarian bird-watcher in New York’s Central Park in a case that prompted calls for tougher penalties for sex offenders.
David Albert Mitchell mumbled “yes” in response to a judge’s questions as he pleaded guilty to rape and robbery in the September 2012 attack, one of at least three times he’s been charged with sex crimes against women in their 70s and older. He was expected to get 30 years in prison at his Oct. 16 sentencing.
“David Mitchell is a predator who targets the elderly,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement.
Mitchell’s lawyers declined to comment.
Mitchell was accused of raping the then 73-year-old birder, slamming her head on the ground and running off with her camera bag in a wooded area near Strawberry Fields, a spot that serves as a memorial to John Lennon and is one of Central Park’s busiest sections.
Roughly a week earlier, he had demanded her camera after she used it to document his lewd behavior, she told police. On the day of the attack, he approached her asking whether she recognized him; she did but denied it, the DA’s office said.
After fleeing the park, Mitchell groped two other women on the nearby Upper West Side, prosecutors said. He was charged with pulling a knife on a man and threatening to stab him during an August 2012 argument in the park.
He also pleaded guilty to a weapon-possession charge in the August 2012 argument. His plea also resolved the groping charges, although he didn’t admit specifically to them.
Mitchell, 43, comes from tiny Jenkinjones, W.Va., where his felony arrest record began in his teens. It grew so ominous that when he was released from a Virginia prison in 2011, some of his neighbors bought guns to protect themselves.
At 18, he was charged with raping and killing an 86-year-old woman in Jenkinjones, a struggling coalfields community of fewer than 300 people. A few months after being acquitted in that case, he was charged with raping a woman in her 70s and stealing her gun. The sexual assault charge was dropped in a plea bargain, his then-attorney said. But Mitchell served time in the case — a prison term punctuated by a conviction for escaping — and was released, then imprisoned again for a time on a grand larceny charge, according to West Virginia prison officials.
Released in 2001, he came under suspicion about a year later in the death of a 54-year-old Jenkinjones woman, but he was never charged.
Mitchell went to prison in Virginia in 2003 in the abduction of his ex-girlfriend. Released after serving about eight years, he was soon locked up on probation violations. After incarceration on those violations, he was later freed and dropped out of sight.
With his New York arrest and the arrest of a convicted sex offender in a rape in New York’s Hudson River Park about two weeks later, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and other local officials called for new measures to toughen sentences for sex offenders and make it easier to prosecute them.
Jonathan Stewart, 26, was sentenced Monday to 35 years in prison for the Hudson River Park rape. He pleaded guilty earlier this month.
After Mitchell’s arrest, Mayor Michael Bloomberg found himself emphasizing that Central Park, the site of an infamous 1989 rape, had become safer in recent years.
On April 19, 1989, a 28-year-old investment banker was found after being sexually attacked while running in the park. She was in a coma for 12 days. Known worldwide for years only as “the Central Park jogger,” Trisha Meili disclosed her identity in 2003 and published a memoir.
Concerns about park safety in the city were back at the forefront Tuesday, when an emotionally disturbed man wielding half a pair of scissors attacked a 1-year-old boy and four other people on a bike path in a busy, manicured area along the Hudson River, police said.
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