Heckled by New York's maids, Dominique Strauss-Kahn set for fiery trial

Lawyers for the maid who has accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of criminal sexual assault in a New York hotel room served notice yesterday that she will testify at his trial and "tell the world" what he inflicted upon her, as the former IMF chief was met with a chorus of heckling from hotel workers outside a Manhattan courthouse.

The warning, delivered minutes after Mr Strauss-Kahn entered a 'not guilty' plea to the seven charges filed against him, is the latest indication of how ferocious the trial is likely to be with the defence, the prosecution and now lawyers for the accuser all aggressively preparing to engage in battle.

"She is going to come into this courthouse, get into that witness stand and tell the world what Dominique Strauss (Kahn) did to her," a lawyer for the maid, Kenneth Thompson, declared outside the court. "The victim wants you to know that all of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's power, money and influence throughout the world will not keep the truth about what he did to her in that hotel room from coming out."

Even months before it gets under way and with the window still ajar for a possible plea-bargain, the trial is increasingly taking on the air of a three-ring circus that will enthral the world, not least France, which is struggling to comprehend what has happened an economist and politician who was widely touted as its likely next president.

Theatrics outside the court yesterday were further stoked by hotel maids pushing against police barriers jeering Mr Strauss-Kahn as he, accompanied by his defence team and his wife, Anne Sinclair, arrived for his formal arraignment. The hotel employees, bussed in by their union and most dressed in uniforms they usually wear to work, cried "shame" as he walked past. Wendy Baranello, a hotel union organiser, called the charges "outrageous" and said the accuser "is a hard-working woman... just doing her job."

The arraignment was brief. Mr Strauss-Kahn, who is free on cash and bond bail totalling $6m (£3.7m) but must stay in a rented luxury townhouse just blocks from the court house, looked away as the seven charges were read out by a court official. In a voice that seemed confident and even defiant, he replied "not guilty" when asked by Judge Michael Obus how he wished to plead.

Speaking to reporters, Ben Brafman, the defendant's lead lawyer, said he will argue that no force was used in the 14 May encounter in a Sofitel suite. "Any suggestion to the contrary is simply not credible," he said, implying that sexual contact between his client and the accuser had been consensual. When the truth is established, "it will be clear that there was no element of forcible compulsion in this case whatsoever," Mr Brafman said after the brief hearing. "Any suggestion to the contrary is simply not credible."

Last month, the defence sent a letter to prosecutors saying the case against Mr Strauss-Kahn was over before it had started. The defence said they had information to "seriously undermine the quality of this prosecution and also gravely undermine the credibility of the complainant in this case".

But there is so far no sign of any wavering on the part of the Manhattan's DA's office and most legal observers think that while many sexual assault cases are settled with a plea bargain before trial, such an outcome is unlikely here with the stakes so high for all concerned. For Mr Strauss-Kahn a plea deal would probably involve some prison time and an admission that some coercion was used with the maid.

The next hearing for Mr Strauss-Kahn is set for 18 July. If found guilty of the most serious charges against him he could face up to 25 years in prison.

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