"His conviction in the courtroom of Judge William Wetzel is the worst miscarriage of justice since they abolished lynching."
- Steve Dunleavy, New York Post (front page article), 4/27/98
Latest news (11/01/01): Case dismissed! All charges in the case were dismissed today by state Supreme Court Justice Rena Uviller in the interests of justice after prosecutors announced, without warning, that Jovanovic's accuser was too emotionally unstable to proceed. The dismissal followed on the heels of a Village Voice article published on October 31, 2001 by Nat Hentoff comparing the case to the travesty of the Lenny Bruce prosecution and calling for the DA to drop the case after offering a misdemeanor plea which Oliver refused to accept.
Recent news (7/27/01): New York Times questions prosecution case. In two recent articles, The Big City: Prosecutors Never Need to Apologize by John Tierney on July 27, 2001 and Questions Hover in Internet Sex Abuse Case by Laura Mansnerus and Katherine E. Finkelstein on May 18, 2001, the New York Times questioned both the prosecution's case and their decision to retry Oliver Jovanovic.
News (1/10/00): Family of accuser calls for DA to drop case. The grandmother and aunt of Oliver Jovanovic's accuser joined him in a press conference to show their support and call for the DA to drop the case. "She has made false accusations before, and this is another one of them," said Fay Webster, the accuser's grandmother. "Enough is enough. I think the Manhattan District Attorney's Office should drop this case."
Some of you may have heard about the surreal travesty of justice involving Oliver Jovanovic, a doctoral candidate in molecular biology at Columbia University. He was accused of various counts of sexual abuse and kidnapping by a Barnard student (dubbed "Madame X" by the press).
The ensuing trial, presided over by Acting Justice William Wetzel, was a mockery of justice. For starters, the accuser was allowed to perjure herself on the stand regarding her S&M activities. Should Mr. Jovanovic take the stand in his own defense, he could not discuss the redacted portions of the e-mail correspondence, or any references Madame X made in phone conversations or in person regarding her involvement in sado-masochistic activities, false rape accusations, or that she claimed to have had unprotected sex with a drug-using cousin and unprotected sex with a bisexual heroin addict. In other words, he would not be allowed to defend himself on the stand. Would you have sex with a potential health hazard? Mr. Jovanovic would not. And as all those present at court saw from the abundance of obviously false testimony, Madame X does not take rejection lightly. In addition, the defense was prohibited from questioning the accuser about prior false accusations she made, including an incident when she, according to a family member, falsely swore out a warrant for abuse against her father and uncle after they insisted that she attend a family Christmas gathering.
Under the pretext of the Rape Shield Law, the e-mail exchanged between Madame X and Oliver was redacted so that among other things, all evidence of a false rape allegation and all mention of Madame X's sadomasochistic activities were expunged. This of course warped the meaning of the e-mail. Never mind, that she claims to be "what those happy pain fiends at the Vault" (a known S&M club), call a "pushy bottom", and never mind that she says about her boyfriend Luke: "he was a sadomasochist and now I'm his slave, and it's painful, but the fun of telling my friends 'hey i'm a sadomasochist' more than outweighs the torment." Never mind that he probably caused the bruises on her body that she falsely blamed on Oliver.
The prosecution was allowed to change the testimony to fit the lack of medical evidence. One of the crucial allegations that caused this case to go to trial was acts of extreme violence which were sworn to by the prosecutors in court filings one month before trial. At the trial, however, confronted with the lack of supporting medical evidence, they were allowed to back away from these allegations and completely trivialize them. "Violently rammed" became "inserted" and "profuse bleeding" became "light bleeding" or no bleeding at all. The veracity of whether any of the allegations ever took place could not be questioned because the defense was not allowed to demonstrate the prosecution's unconscionable twisting of facts.
Medical experts? The defense was barred from calling Dr. Moritz, whom the prosecution had hired to examine Madame X. He had found a cut on the vagina, which medically could not have come from Oliver because it was too recent. It seems that Madame X was either attempting to fabricate evidence or was involved in further S&M activities. This important information was barred from reaching the jury. The defense dental pathologist was barred from testifying that there were no bite marks on Madame X.
Witnesses? Steve Ralbovsky, the super of Oliver's building, was not allowed to testify that the walls of the building are so thin that not only can you hear people walk, but you can hear the floor creak as well. He was not allowed to say that no neighbors heard any screams that night, although Madam X testified that she screamed loudly and repeatedly. The defense was also barred from introducing material critical to the impeachment of prosecution witnesses William O'Connor, Vita DeLeon and Mary Jo Chambers.
During the closing statements, the prosecution was allowed to totally depart from its own witness's improbable testimony. For example, Madame X had testified that she was frantically fighting off Oliver while simultaneously gathering up her clothes, getting dressed and making her escape. The prosecution was allowed to argue to the jury a completely contrary story - namely, that she never had to fight him off, since he just let her go.
Judge Wetzel made history with the last three counts of the charges, when he instructed the jury that assault can never be consensual! This is the first time this instruction was ever given in New York State. Watch out boxers, football players and "happy pain fiends at the Vault," the Constitution of the United States is about to be suspended. We could go on and on. About 20 reversible errors in all, with defense lawyer Jack Litman repeatedly moving for a mistrial. This trial would be comical if it were not so tragic; it has made a mockery of our system of justice at the expense of an innocent man.
And the result of all this? The jurors were taken in by the one-sided presentation and the prejudicial behavior of the judge. A totally innocent and highly productive young man was denied the right to a fair trial and was convicted to a lifetime in prison. Is this what our system of justice is all about? Fabrication, misrepresentation and outright lies? Win at all cost, no matter what the truth? We do not think so. And we will fight until this horrible wrong has been corrected.
The first step in the fight was won on 12/21/99, when the Appellate Division ruled that Oliver Jovanovic be granted a new trial, finding that the trial judge - Acting Justice William Wetzel - had made egregious errors, including misapplying the New York State Rape Shield Law by not allowing jurors to see several emails between the accuser and the defendant. Oliver Jovanovic was released on bail after spending 20 months in prison for a crime he did not commit and spent the holidays with his family in the working class Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan.
Shortly after the reversal, on 1/10/00, the grandmother and aunt of Oliver Jovanovic's accuser joined him to show their support and call for the DA to drop the case. Disregarding the family's plea, the Manhattan District Attorney's office proceeded to appeal the reversal by the Appellate Divison to New York's highest court. On 7/6/00, the Court of Appeals, however, upheld the overturning of the "cybersex" case verdict, finding that the Appellate Division had reversed the conviction of Oliver Jovanovic in the "interests of justice". The Manhattan District Attorney's office then announced that they intended to retry the case.
Please help Oliver Jovanovic get back his life and belief in humanity, which were so cruelly wrenched from him and help justice to be done. Please tell your friends about this terrible miscarriage of justice in order to help raise awareness about this travesty. If you need printed copies of materials about this case, please send us email and we will be happy to send them out to you. Please email us your contact information (name, address, and phone number) so that we can get in touch with you about upcoming events and/or sending out letters on specific issues.
Family funds have been depleted by the exorbitant cost of this high profile case. Now, because of the total disregard for fairness and justice, the family faces the enormous costs of the appeal and retrial as well.
Contributions to Olivers Legal Defense Fund are gratefully accepted. Checks should be made out to "The Jovanovic Legal Defense Fund" and sent to:
The Jovanovic Legal Defense Fund, c/o Sabina Jovanovic, P.O. Box 20780, Columbus Circle Station, New York, NY 10023.
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