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New Bedford Rape Trial: 1984

Who's On Trial?, Verdicts And Sentencing, Suggestions For Further Reading:

Defendants: John Cordeiro, Jose M. Medeiros, Virgilio Medeiros, Victor Raposo, Daniel Silva, and Joseph Vieira
Crime Charged: Aggravated Rape
Chief Defense Lawyers: Edward F. Harrington, Judith Lindahl, Kenneth Sullivan, and David Waxier
Chief Prosecutors: Ronald A. Pina and Raymond P. Veary
Judge: William G. Young
Place: Fall River, Massachusetts
Dates: February 23-March 21, 1984
Verdicts: Cordeiro, Raposo, Silva, and Vieira, Guilty; Jose Medeiros and Virgilio Medeiros, Not guilty
Sentence: 6-12 years imprisonment

SIGNIFICANCE: Reports of the crime spurred a national debate as to whether a woman's independent or (as some saw it) compromising behavior made her partially responsible for sexual crimes committed against her; the conviction of four of the men was widely hailed by feminists, who insisted that rapists, and not the character of their victims, should be tried in court.

Agang rape that took place March 6, 1983, in Big Dan's tavern, New Bedford, Massachusetts, quickly became national news. The first reports were of a 21-year-old mother of two raped by a half-dozen men over the course of two hours, while the bar's 15 other patrons cheered. Later investigation of the evidence reduced the size of the cheering squad, but confirmed the other details of the crime. According to eyewitness testimony, two men tried to force the woman to perform oral sex; two others threw her on a pool table and raped her; the bartender was physically restrained from going to a phone; and another nonparticipating man—who first ignored the bartender's instructions to call the police—dialed a wrong number and then didn't bother to try again.

Amid the outrage of women's groups and many of New Bedford's citizens, Big Dan's tavern was closed and its bar cut up with a chain saw. But many members of the town's Portuguese community just as quickly rallied behind the accused rapists, claiming, as one woman put it, "There was guilt by national origin." Throughout the trial and for years afterward, they would express resentment against the woman. "She should have been home in the first place," the New York Times quoted one Portuguese-American woman shouting on the day of sentencing. The paper aptly summed up the sentiment:

By their lights she wasn't raped. Rather she got herself raped, a very different crime for which they think the victim must take the blame. She did, after all, enter a bar, drink, flirt—behavior which offends a conservative community like theirs. Those demonstrators may not condone her rapists' behavior, but they are more ashamed of hers.

The New Bedford gang rape trial served as a benchmark for the feminist community characterized by Susan Brownmiller, author of the landmark book Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, as a "public morality play," the trial was broadcast live on CNN, discussed on op-ed pages and homes across America, and monitored daily by both the Coalition Against Sexist Violence and the Committee for Justice (founded to support the accused).

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988