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20 Years Later, Tawana Brawley Has Turned Back on the Past

By Dorian Block
N.Y. Daily News
November 18, 2007


CLAREMONT, Va. - Many people in this rural town of just 300 know the story of Tawana Brawley, but most have no idea her family lives among them.

Brawley - whose claims of being raped by a "white cop" shocked the city 20 years ago - has long since turned her back on New York. She changed her name, converted to Islam, moved south and got a bullmastiff "trained to bite" in case someone unwanted comes to visit.

The Daily News tracked her family to Claremont, Va., once one large plantation, now a tiny town of cotton and soybean farms, with a two-room library and post office, but no police department or local newspaper.

In a wide-ranging two-hour interview, Glenda Brawley and Ralph King, Brawley's mother and stepfather, revealed glimpses into her life.

She attended Howard University in Washington, where she could not have a roommate for security reasons.

Like her mother, she works as a nurse. Co-workers at the nursing home that employs her know her by the name listed on her nursing license, Tawana Thompson.

Brawley is not married, her parents say. And 20 years after camera flashes burned her eyes daily, family and friends still know not to take her photo.

Glenda Brawley and her husband have not spoken publicly since a grand jury in 1988 decided there was no evidence their daughter was raped, yet they agreed to talk to The News for one reason: They are adamant that their daughter was raped and the men who did it were never punished.

"I could be looking at the television any day and they say the 'Tawana Brawley hoax,'" King said. "What hoax?"

"How could we make this up and take down the state of New York? We're just regular people," Glenda Brawley said to her husband. "We should be millionaires."

They say they decided to speak publicly for the first time in more than 15 years to beg Gov. Spitzer and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to unseal the files and reopen the case.

Their words paint a story that is either one of the largest failures in the history of the justice system or a disturbing lie orchestrated years ago, still told with conviction 20 years later.

"They pulled her hair out by the roots and scribbled nasty things all over her," King said, sitting at a table inside an Applebee's restaurant about 30 miles from their house. "I carried her out of the hospital in my arms. She had no clothes on. We wrapped her in a sheet. The feces were still in her hair."

Witnesses in the trial said Tawana Brawley was frightened of King, who served seven years in prison in the 1970s for murdering his first wife.

King and Glenda Brawley, 52, say they believe there is evidence in the sealed rape investigation that proves that Assistant District Attorney Steven Pagones and Police Officer Harry Crist Jr. raped their daughter and the state tried to cover it up.

Pagones, who won a defamation suit against Brawley and others, has spoken about the case over the years, but did not return calls for comment.

Crist was found dead days after the incident. His death was ruled a suicide.

King and Brawley insist no white man has ever been convicted of raping a black woman and they say Tawana, who has been accused of not ever telling her story, will speak if the file is opened.

"We're going to fight this case all the way to the end," Glenda Brawley said. "[The rapists] ain't going to heaven with something weighing heavy on them. Maybe they'll release it after all these years. I can look my daughter in her big, brown eyes and myself in the mirror. Can they?"

Brawley, now 35, rarely emerges from her self-imposed exile these days, returning to New York only as a guest of the United African Movement, established by Sharpton and her lawyers to lend her name to civil rights cases. She accepts free flights and limousine rides from the group to merely appear at its events.

Brawley's family said she does not wear a hijab, or head scarf, but is a devout Muslim, a conversion that began during the trial when Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan gave her the name Maryam Muhammad.

Her parents, who are Christians, said she can call any mosque in the world and will be provided with security, if her advisers from New York or her specially trained dog cannot protect her.

They say Brawley enjoys traveling. She has been to Africa twice, to Jamaica, the Bahamas and Aruba on vacation.

She has developed deep friendships with people who do and do not know her story, attending weddings and visiting new babies as her friends have aged.

Last month, she attended a funeral for her uncle. She receives a flood of birthday cards from supporters through her lawyers every December.

Her parents no longer talk about the case with her and her 22-year-old brother, Tyice, who was just a toddler during the trial and has never spoken to his parents directly about it.

Brawley's family said they get a handful of death threats from extremists, but most people they meet support them. They say they will keep on fighting because they know that their daughter's story helps other girls who have been attacked.

Among dozens of articles and recordings stuffed in her one-story home, Glenda Brawley keeps the paper her daughter scribbled on in her hospital bed the day she was found.

"White cop," it says.

"New York State is scared of my name," Glenda Brawley said. "When they hear 'Brawley' they think, 'Here comes a problem.' But New York State owes my daughter. They owe her the truth."

At the end of the 1998 defamation trial in which Pagones was awarded $345,000, the court said, "Let us hope after 10-1/2 years, the Tawana Brawley matter is finally laid to rest and we can move forward at last to promote healing and racial harmony."

Nine years later, the Brawleys say they vow to prevent that from happening - at least with the ending they have been given.

dblock@nydailynews.com



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