Tyson in appeal against conviction

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The Independent Online
ONE YEAR after being jailed for rape, the former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson yesterday launched Round Two of his battle to persuade the world that he is innocent, and belongs behind ropes, not bars.

His lawyers, led by Alan Dershowitz, a celebrated legal brawler, went to the Indiana Court of Appeals yesterday to argue that he was wrongly convicted of raping an 18-year-old beauty pageant contestant, Desiree Washington. Neither Tyson, 26, nor Miss Washington attended the two-hour hearing.

The appeal comes at a time when the US is wrestling as never before with the emotive issue of what constitutes sexually unacceptable behaviour, how precisely to define consent, and how to determine whether subjects of alleged assaults are genuine victims or money-minded litigators.

Debate still rumbles on over the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas affair, the acquittal of William Kennedy Smith, and - more recently - charges against Senator Bob Packwood of Oregon, who allegedly made unwelcome advances to 23 women. As it becomes clear that women will wield increasing influence in the Clinton administration, there are even mutterings from chauvinist quarters that the battle of the sexes is getting out of hand, and that some - including Tyson - may have been unfairly savaged by the pit bulls of the Politically Correct.

But Mr Dershowitz's case was more specific. He argued before a panel of three appeal court judges, in Indianapolis, that Tyson would have been acquitted were it not for errors by the trial judge, Patricia Gifford. He said these included refusing to allow evidence from three women whom Tyson's defence team suddenly produced, in mid-trial, claiming that they saw Miss Washington canoodling with the champion as the couple headed from his limousine to his Indianapolis hotel room.

Mr Dershowitz said the judge also erred on several other points - for instance, by not letting jurors consider whether Tyson mistakenly believed Miss Washington consented to sex, or allowing them to hear a tape-recording of a telephone call which she made reporting the alleged assault.

Afterwards, the lawyer set off to report to Tyson in jail, saying the hearing went well. However, advocates of the boxer's innocence cannot have been much encouraged by Fallen Idol: The Untold Story of Mike Tyson, a television documentary broadcast on Friday. Although it exposed the horde of money-sucking predators in his life as he rose to fame, there was also damning evidence about his sexual proclivities. 'There was a point behind closed doors when Mike did get rough,' recalled Mariel Ruiz, a former girlfriend. 'It was clear what he liked.'

Most Tyson fans are unlikely to be deterred. Ever since he was led away in handcuffs to start a six- year stretch as inmate No 922335 at the Indiana Youth Centre, Iron Mike has not lacked sympathisers. During the Los Angeles riots, black youths put the mayhem down to revenge for 'Rodney King - and Mike Tyson'. Tyson, like Mr King, is seen by many as a symbol of the inequity of a white- dominated judiciary which acquitted William Kennedy Smith, but was automatically biased against a black man from the ghetto.

It will be up to eight weeks before the appeal court delivers its verdict. Meanwhile, the prizefighter remains in jail, perusing his daily stack of 100 (censored) fan letters, working out in the gym, and receiving visitors, including the singer Whitney Houston. According to a friend, Tyson has become more introspective, and is reading black and biblical history. His hero, these days, is King David. Tyson evidently believes that, like the biblical king, he has had to face many obstacles en route to the crown.