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Hotel Maid's Lawyer Fights To Keep DSK Case Alive


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Jacki Lyden. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, is due back in court on Tuesday. The sexual assault case against him has been on shaky ground since prosecutors admitted concerns about the credibility of his accuser. But that accuser, a hotel chambermaid, has a powerful advocate in her attorney, Kenneth Thompson. Ailsa Chang of member station WNYC has this profile of him. A word of warning: The report contains graphic language that may be offensive to some listeners.

AILSA CHANG: Ken Thompson says he's tired of the media making him out to be the angry black man. We're in his office, looking at family photos. He picks up a picture of himself with his four-year-old son. The boy is climbing all over his back and they're both laughing like crazy.

KEN THOMPSON: I have this serial killer look all the time, but my son can take that away. I don't know why. It's just it's not in me to smile that much. I guess I'm always feeling the weight of the world.

CHANG: And that weight got heavier on July 1st, when prosecutors told the court the housekeeper, Nafissatou Diallo, had lied on her asylum application, her tax returns and to investigators.


THOMPSON: Mary, Let me - let me tell you the truth, okay?

CHANG: So Thompson stood in front of the courthouse that day, fearing the case was about to collapse. As if channeling the former federal prosecutor within him, he gave what sounded like the opening argument in the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

THOMPSON: She got up and started to run for that door and started spitting Dominique Strauss-Kahn's semen out of her mouth in disgust all over that hotel room.

CHANG: Now, Thompson is praised for being a graphic orator in the courtroom, but that day, critics said he went too far. He talked about the bruises found on Diallo, and dropped the word vagina five times in 20 seconds. And this, is Thompson's way - aggressive, straight-talking, sticking up for victims who otherwise seem powerless under the spotlight. Some lawyers say he purposely gravitates toward high-publicity plaintiffs, but friends disagree. Sterling Johnson, Jr. is a federal judge in Brooklyn and longtime mentor of Thompson's.

STERLING JOHNSON: He doesn't gravitate toward them. They gravitate toward him.

CHANG: Johnson says the case that put Thompson on the map was the Abner Louima trial. Thompson was barely three years into his job as a young federal prosecutor when Louima was sodomized with a broomstick during a confrontation with New York City police officers in 1997. To his surprise, Thompson was tapped to give the opening argument in the trial. He practiced late at night for weeks in the bathroom of the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn. It had a mirror and a long sink to pace in front of. Joe Tacopina defended one of the officers in the case and says Thompson captivated the courtroom with a passionate speech that described the attack in graphic detail.

JOE TACOPINA: Most U.S. Attorneys don't do that stuff. They're very like, the evidence will show, and I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, and they talk like robotic, and Kenny doesn't.

CHANG: At the end of the trial, two officers were sent to prison. Thompson says he was tailor-made to be a prosecutor because he's always related to the underdog. He was born in the projects in Harlem, and the family was abandoned by the father when Thompson was five. His mother became one of New York City's first female police officers on patrol. Colleagues say Thompson is a fighter, which is why he's been allowing Diallo to make her case to the media. Some lawyers have questioned this decision, but longtime plaintiff's attorney Sanford Rubenstein says it could be a wise move.

SANFORD RUBENSTEIN: Remember, a jury pool comes from the public, and while the judge will tell the jury that they shouldn't be influenced by anything that they've heard before, we don't know what goes through people's minds when they sit on a jury.

CHANG: But Thompson says sources have told him the district attorney probably will drop the criminal case. Even if that happens, there will still be one jury left to convince - the one hearing the civil suit Diallo filed against Strauss-Kahn just last week. For NPR News, I'm Ailsa Chang, in New York.

LYDEN: Tomorrow, WEEKEND EDITION Sunday will bring you a profile of Cyrus Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney who is prosecuting this case. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.