UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan — A woman is recovering from a variety of serious injuries from a brutal attempted rape that detectives say took place in one of the most expensive and safest parts of Manhattan.
The alleged attacker, meanwhile, stays at a homeless shelter less than a block from the crime. That contrast, as well as the intense violence involved in the crime, are getting a lot of scrutiny now.
Desmond Smith, 32, is charged with attempted rape, strangulation, sexual abuse and assault in the wake of the attack that happened late Wednesday night near Central Park West and 84th Street.
He's expected to go before a judge at criminal court in Lower Manhattan on Friday night for the accused crimes. The court is a long way away from the place Smith has called home in recent weeks, according to investigators.
They say he stays at a men's homeless shelter on West 83rd Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues.
"I saw cops yesterday here," said Iryna Martsynyuk about the shelter, which is next door to the beauty salon where she works. "But maybe there was a reason why."
The reason, according to police, was their investigation of Smith.
They said that at around 11 p.m. Wednesday night, he approached a 37-year-old woman who'd just gotten out of an Uber near Central Park West and 84th. When she ignored his comments to her, detectives say, Smith beat her, choked her, stomped on her, bit her, and removed some of her clothing, while trying to rape her. The woman's screams brought out a doorman nearby.
That doorman, Ernest Pjetri, took a flash photo of Smith, apparently jarring the suspect. Smith tried to run after Pjetri, but quickly decided to flee the scene instead. Pjetri's photo, along with surveillance video from many cameras in the area, helped to identify Smith, investigators said, and to indicate that he lives at the men's homeless facility.
It’s set up in a building that was converted from a hotel decades ago, and it now houses 105 men. One of them is Mike Gee.
"The place is good, you know?" Gee told PIX11 News. "Just a few bad apples, you know, come through every once in a while.”
Gee said he does not know Smith, nor does he accuse Smith of the attempted rape with which he's charged. However, Gee added, any shelter resident who might be involved in criminal activity is an exception to otherwise quiet residents of the facility, who mind their own business, as well as minding the letter of the law.
Meanwhile, the survivor of the violent attack a block away from the shelter is recovering from a fractured skull, and other injuries.
"As a rape survivor myself, my heart goes out to the victim," said nearby resident Leeann Anderson.
However, she continued, offering perspective, "Cases like this are sensational, but they are not the common case. Most women are raped by someone they have a passing acquaintance with. I think we as a society need to do a lot more to protect women."
In Desmond Smith's case, he faces a prison sentence of at least 25 years, if he's found guilty. Even though she's a sex crime survivor herself, Anderson had one more comment regarding the Upper West Side attempted rape suspect.
"As a lawyer, and a believer in the strength of the Constitution," she told PIX11 News, "I know that a person is innocent until proven guilty."