David Albert Mitchell, homeless man arrested in alleged Central Park rape, has a history of violence, investigators say

David Mitchell spits toward reporters while being led away by authorities to face charges of allegedly raping a 73-year-old woman in broad daylight at Central Park
CBS New York
David Mitchell spits toward reporters while being led away by authorities to face charges of raping a 73-year-old woman in broad daylight in Central Park
CBS New York

(CBS/AP) NEW YORK - Police arrested a heavily tattooed,  homeless man with a history of violence on Thursday for allegedly brutally raping a 73-year-old birdwatcher in broad daylight near a busy section of Central Park.

Three rookie police officers took 42-year-old David Albert Mitchell into custody Wednesday night after spotting him walking on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, not far from where the woman said the attack occurred.

Investigators believe Mitchell was the man shown in footage from police security cameras leaving the park with the woman's backpack. New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said Mitchell had some of the woman's belongings, including photo memory cards, on him when he was picked up.

The woman picked Mitchell out of a lineup on Thursday, Browne said.

Prosecutors said Mitchell was arraigned early Friday on charges of first-degree rape, robbery, assault and other charges and ordered held without bail. Mitchell said nothing as he was led from the special victims unit to face charges in court, but he spat at reporters gathered there.

Mitchell, who has tattoos of the grim reaper, castles, Nordic warriors and dragons all over his body, also faces charges for threatening a man last month with a knife in Central Park. According to investigators, he told the man, "I have no problem stabbing you as many times as I want and making this circle full of blood."

Relatives in Virginia said in a phone interview with The Associated Press that Mitchell was a heavy drinker who spent most of life in and out of jail. They said they weren't surprised by his latest brush with the law.

A sister-in-law and onetime girlfriend said he was arrested in 2003 after trying to sexually assault her and dragging her out of her home in a drunken rage. Records show he was sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty to an abduction charge.

His trouble "was always sexually driven," Saretta Mitchell told the AP. "He was a sick individual as far as sex goes. ... I was just a dumb, naive person to get involved with him."

Mitchell's extensive criminal record in Virginia and West Virginia included a 1989 arrest on murder and rape charges. He was acquitted at trial.

His relatives said Mitchell was last seen in Virginia at the beginning of August. Investigators said Mitchell was known as Keith in Central Park and was haunting various locations within the park. It's unclear how long he had been in New York.

The birdwatcher told police she was attacked at around 11 a.m. Wednesday in a wooded area near Strawberry Fields, a spot that serves as a memorial to John. The woman told investigators a man threw her to the ground and attacked her, then made off with a backpack that contained her camera.

She had also said she thought her assailant was a man she photographed fondling himself about nine days ago in a more isolated spot within the park. She said he demanded she delete the image and tried to grab her camera but didn't succeed. Police said that initial encounter wasn't reported.

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