Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita III holds up a “rape kit” evidence box as he addresses reporters during a press conference Friday in his office.

The rape investigation of Patrick Kane is not over.

But the developments over this past week – from the revelation that no DNA evidence from the NHL hockey star was found in the alleged victim’s pelvic area, to the mysterious appearance of what was purported to be a “rape kit evidence bag” at the home of the mother of the alleged victim, which the district attorney has deemed a hoax and prompted the woman’s attorney to drop her as a client – has made it even more complicated.

“The question in my mind is not when this will go to the grand jury. The question in my mind is if this goes to a grand jury,” said Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III.

Sedita said Friday investigators determined that the bag found at the house was not a rape kit bag but instead a hospital bag that had been given to the mother into which she was supposed to put an article of clothing – a “top” – that her daughter had been wearing on Aug. 2, the morning of the attack.

At a packed news conference, Sedita said the bag was never used and that Hamburg police took the top and put it into their own evidence bag. Sedita, along with Hamburg police and Erie County Central Police Services officials, have said no evidence or packing containers for evidence are missing from the case and that chain of custody of the items has been properly maintained.

“We believe that a person, the complainant’s mother, has engaged in an elaborate hoax,” Sedita said.

Now, Sedita said, he has to figure out how to proceed.

“What do we do with this new information?” Sedita said at the news conference. “Obviously, there’s been an effort to create a hoax. Obviously, there’s been an effort to manufacture a perception that forensic evidence cannot be trusted. I’ve got to figure out who was in on that, why they would do that and what it means for all of the other evidence. I will be doing that. We will be doing that over the course of the next few days.”

Relatives of the young woman on Friday declined to comment on Sedita’s news conference, but stood by their original statement that they intend to seek justice, a friend of the family told The Buffalo News.

In a statement issued Thursday night, the family pointed out that Thomas J. Eoannou, who had represented the alleged victim until then, never questioned the veracity of the woman’s claim that she was raped by Kane. The woman is still being represented by Roland M. Cercone, who works in the same Delaware Avenue law offices as Eoannou.

Paul J. Cambria Jr., Kane’s attorney, held a news conference of his own and took aim at the alleged victim, saying what he took away from what Sedita said was that she had knowledge of how the brown paper bag was going to be used in discrediting the investigation.

“The accused herself knew what was in the bag originally and you can assume reasonably she knew what was going forward,” Cambria said, explaining it was an attempt to undermine the DNA evidence that he believes exonerates Kane of any wrongdoing.

A charge of attempting to obstruct governmental administration, Cambria said, would appear to be an appropriate next step by the DA’s office.

“But that is his call. I have respect for the District Attorney’s Office and am confident they will do the right thing,” Cambria said.

Sedita said Friday his office has not interviewed the alleged victim about the bag.

Cambria said he spoke with Kane on Friday and updated him on the latest developments.

“As you can imagine, it is stressful to have someone make an accusation against you that is untrue, but he still has faith in the criminal justice system,” Cambria said in sharing his observations following the phone conversation.

Cambria also said there are no discussions on a potential financial settlement. Whether someone ever approached him on that possibility, he declined to comment.

Former prosecutors contacted by The News said Friday that while the case has become especially messy, the apparent hoax doesn’t necessarily kill the case.

“I think what’s happened poisons this story in the public’s view,” said Florina Altshiler, a Buffalo attorney and former sex crimes prosecutor. “However, it does not poison this story for an objective, prosecutorial agency. It’s just one piece of a very large puzzle and it is a fact that the DA’s office will consider in light of all the other facts.”

The turn of events in the last few days, Altshiler said, represents the actions of “someone who acted emotionally after a continued period of public attention to her daughter, a lot of which was negative. Victim bashing is certainly nothing new and some people are stronger than others and more well equipped to handle it.

“While I certainly do not condone the mother’s actions, which very well might be criminal, I certainly understand psychologically speaking that these are the actions of a mother pushed to the limits in protecting her daughter in this media battle.”

Dennis C. Vacco, a former assistant district attorney, U.S. Attorney and state attorney general, offered a skeptical outlook on whether this criminal case could continue.

“I think that a prosecution resulting from this investigation is an extreme uphill battle for a variety of reasons,” Vacco said. “Almost shockingly we heard from the DA today that because she had two lawyers who counseled her not to speak to the investigators, neither the DA’s staff nor the police investigators have talked to the purported victim.”

Other developments, he said, further dim the chances of a criminal case.

“The DNA tests indicated Kane’s DNA was not found in the genital area of the purported victim, and now over the last 24 hours, you have Tom Eoannou who once represented this young woman resigning his representation. At the same time, the DA is confirming the purported victim’s mother had perpetrated a hoax on Tom Eoannou concerning the alleged evidence bag,” Vacco said.

Regarding the integrity of the alleged victim, Vacco said, “While Eoannou and DA Sedita were careful not to connect the hoax to the purported victim, it is not illogical, especially since the police have not been able to talk to her, for the investigators to now be looking cautiously at her initial claims.”

Former Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark says the investigation into the alleged rape remains untainted by the hoax, even if the latest developments have cast doubt in the court of public opinion.

“But I don’t think the issue is clouded at all by what the family has done,” he said.

He pointed out that Sedita told reporters “that the integrity of the evidence was preserved.”

Clark said: “Really, the only issue in my mind that is relevant and that remains unanswered is whether or not the victim knew of the hoax or participated.”

Clark was surprised to hear that Sedita and his investigators have been barred from meeting with the alleged victim without her attorneys being present.

“That is a condition that defense lawyers put on prosecutors, that you can’t talk to my defendants without me being present,” Clark said. “It’s not a condition put on victims. The DA talks to victims all the time. I have never heard a lawyer say that a victim can’t talk to the DA without the lawyer being present. That shows me that they have a difficult client here.”

When Sedita classified the DNA evidence as “Brady Material,” Clark said the DA was “in legal terms categorizing it as favorable to Patrick Kane.”

Those DNA test results were first reported last Sunday in The Buffalo News. The tests determined that DNA vaginal swabs were negative for Kane’s DNA.

Buffalo attorney Robert C. Singer, who previously served for about a decade as a prosecutor in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, says whether the criminal case goes forward depends on if the alleged victim had anything to do with the apparent hoax.

“I think the DA honed in on the most important part, whether the victim had anything to do with what happened,” Singer said.

If it is determined that the alleged victim was not involved in the hoax, he said there is a potential that the bag will never come up in a possible trial.

“If I were arguing her case as the DA, and the victim had nothing to do with the bag, then I would argue that any introduction by the defense regarding the bag should not occur because it has no relevance to her allegations or her credibility,” Singer said.

However, he believes her credibility has been “damaged in the court of public opinion.”

Credibility is of the utmost importance in this type of case, he said.

“The one thing that is most important in any sexual assault case is the credibility of the alleged victim. That’s because you only have two witnesses, the victim and the accuser,” Singer said. “For a jury to find someone guilty of a sex offense beyond a reasonable doubt, the credibility of the victim is really paramount.”

He also added that pressures on a victim in a sexual assault case are always extremely high.

email: lmichel@buffnews.com and mbecker@buffnews.com

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