• Drifter pleads guilty in NYC attack on woman, 74
     | October 02,2013

    NEW YORK — An ex-convict whose violent history terrified his West Virginia hometown admitted Tuesday that he attacked a 74-year-old birdwatcher in New York’s Central Park in a case that prompted calls for tougher penalties for sex offenders.

    David Albert Mitchell mumbled “yes” in response to a judge’s questions as he pleaded guilty to rape and robbery. He was expected to get at least 25 years in prison at his Oct. 16 sentencing. His lawyers declined to comment afterward.

    Mitchell was accused of raping the birder, slamming her head on the ground and trying to strangle her in a wooded area near Strawberry Fields, a spot that serves as a memorial to John Lennon and is one of Central Park’s busiest sections.

    Roughly a week earlier, he had demanded her camera after she used it to document his lewd behavior, she told police. On the day of the attack, he approached her asking whether she recognized him; she did but denied it, the DA’s office said.

    After fleeing the park, Mitchell groped two other women on the nearby Upper West Side, prosecutors said. He was charged with pulling a knife on a man and threatening to stab him during an August 2012 argument in the park.

    He also pleaded to a weapon-possession charge concerning the August 2012 incident involving a man in Strawberry Fields. And, although he didn’t have to admit specifically to the gropings after the bird-watcher rape, his plea resolves those charges as well.

    Mitchell comes from tiny Jenkinjones, W.Va., where his felony arrest record began in his teens. It grew so ominous that when he was released from a Virginia prison in 2011, some of his neighbors bought guns to protect themselves.

    At 18, he was charged with raping and killing an 86-year-old woman in Jenkinjones, a struggling coalfields town of fewer than 300 people. A few months after being acquitted in that case, he was charged with raping a woman in her 70s and stealing her gun. That sexual assault charge was dropped in a plea bargain, his then-attorney said.

    After serving time in that case — a prison term punctuated by a conviction for escaping — Mitchell was released, then imprisoned again for a time on a grand larceny charge, according to West Virginia prison officials.

    Released in 2001, he came under suspicion about a year later in the death of a 54-year-old Jenkinjones woman, but he was never charged.

    Mitchell went to prison in Virginia in 2003 in the abduction of his ex-girlfriend. Released after serving about eight years, he was soon locked up on probation violations, then got out again and dropped out of sight.

    After his New York arrest and a report of an unrelated rape in another New York park weeks later, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and other local officials called for new measures to toughen sentences for sex offenders and make it easier to prosecute them.

    And Mayor Michael Bloomberg found himself emphasizing that Central Park, the site of an infamous 1989 rape, has become safer in recent years.

    On April 19, 1989, a 28-year-old investment banker was found after being sexually attacked while running in the park. She was in a coma for 12 days. Known worldwide for years only as “the Central Park jogger,” Trisha Meili disclosed her identity in 2003 and published a memoir.

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