Paris Drake, a homeless panhandler, was charged with attempted murder Wednesday after a lawyer who witnessed the attack on Barrett picked him out of a line-up.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani congratulated the police for making the arrest and criticized reporters for asking repeated questions on why cops did not see the resemblance between suspect Paris Drake and the sketch.
"This is a very big city," he said. "In that particular situation, they (police) did not make the identification."
Sixty detectives had worked full time towards solving the case of the Nov. 16 attack. A police sketch was circulated citywide, but when Drake was arrested in Harlem on Nov. 23 on drug possession charges, no one noticed his uncanny resemblance to the sketch.
"He was arrested as a drug possessor and there was no recognition of him at the time," Police Commissioner Howard Safir said. "In the (legal) system and in a city as big as this, that's not unusual."
Safir said to his knowledge, Drake was not questioned about Barrett's attack.
Drake, 32, went unnoticed at central booking and at a court appearance. But during his subsequent three-day stay at Rikers Island, he allegedly told another inmate he had committed the attack, police sources have said. Drake allegedly said he had been panhandling that day and was upset over how little money he got, so he threw the stone that struck Ms. Barrett.
Barrett's condition has improved dramatically despite her brain injury. The Texas native is walking and talking, and her family has told her what happened but she does not remember the attack. The 27-year-old was returning to her office after getting a haircut when she was struck from behind with a six-pound paving stone at 42nd Street and Madison Avenue.
"She's doing well," says her brother, Scott. "She's talking, walking around. She's alert. She knows who we are. She's talking up a storm to usÂ…she has no memory of what happened. We have spoken to her about it and told her what happened. She has no recollection on her own."
Nicole's family says she doesn't want to return to Texas, where she is from. She wants to go home to her apartment in Queens.
Drake was picked up by police Monday afternoon, three days after the inmate told police what Drake allegedly said about the attack. Drake was found near the Port Authority Terminal, where Giuliani said Drake had been living. But a law enforcement source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Drake lives with his girlfriend and other friends not on the streets.
Safir and Giuliani have come under fire for crackin down on homeless people following Barrett's attack. Police are asking the homeless to accept help, move along, or face arrest for disorderly conduct. Authorities thought the attacker might have been homeless because of the description witnesses gave.
Drake refused to answer questions and has not confessed to the crime. His Legal Aid attorney, Joseph Ronson, released a statement that said police have been under "overwhelming" pressure to make an arrest.
"New Yorkers should also understand that such intense pressure can lead to mistakes," Ronson said. "Paris Drake was held by the police for well over 24 hours without access to a lawyer. During that time, he fervently denied his guilt."
Drake was arraigned Wednesday in Manhattan Criminal Court on charges of second-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault and criminal possession of a deadly weapon.
"For all intents and purposes Ms. Barrett's life ended the day she was attacked," Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said at the proceeding, adding: "This is a horrible, serious case which is in essence akin to second-degree murder. However, Ms. Barrett's life was spared by the miracle of modern medicine."
The prosecutor said the suspect has used various aliases and has numerous warrants out for court appearances that he failed to make.
He was held without bail pending the next hearing, Dec. 6.
Meanwhile, Barrett will be moved to a traumatic brain injury unit at Bellevue Hospital Center Thursday. She is expected to be at the hospital for quite a while.
Barrett, who was to start a new job the day after she was attacked, has no health insurance. The city has raised nearly $13,000 for her medical expenses.
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