BELLEFONTE — Prosecutors say it took Omar Best 27 minutes to strangle and rape a Rockview state prison employee. It took a Centre County jury less than two hours to find him guilty.
Best was convicted of rape by forcible compulsion, rape of an unconscious victim, sexual assault and two counts of aggravated assault.
The verdict came after a day of emotional testimony, not only from the 24-year-old victim, but from her co-workers — the corrections officer who found her crying and brutalized on the office floor, the female officer who was called by a distraught inmate, and the nurse who said it was the worst case of employee assault she had seen at the prison during her tenure.
Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller bolstered the vivid accounts of how Best pursued the clerk in the four short weeks she worked in the prison with science, including three forensic experts who testified that genetic material consistent with Best was found on the victim, and that some of her DNA was identified on him.
The defense countered with just one witness, Best himself, whose rambling, stream-of-consciousness account suggested a consensual relationship in which the victim asked to be strangled.
Defense attorney Deborah Lux built on that, placing responsibility on the victim for interacting with Best and suggesting that the victim was crying when found, not because she was attacked, but because she was caught and might lose her job.
Parks Miller addressed that with color pictures of the victim’s injuries. Hours after the attack, her face was still an ashy purple. A week later, the whites of her eyes were still “as red as a cherry tomato,” filled with blood from vessels that burst as she was placed in a choke hold.
When Lux challenged the idea that her client had threatened the victim with a knife that was never found, Parks Miller skewered the defendant with the claim on the stand.
“What did I need a knife for?” asked Best, who claimed he had physical contact with the victim on two other occasions.
“You’re right,” said Parks Miller. “You had your arm.”
In her closing, Lux urged the jury to believe her client, stressing that he “has no reason to come into court and tell you” about the supposed sexual relationship between the two.
“Why would he say that? Be serious,” said Parks Miller, who said it was how Best could explain the DNA evidence.
Centre County Judge Bradley P. Lunsford has not set a date for sentencing yet.
Best has a lengthy history with the criminal justice system in the Philadelphia area, including various charges of robbery, rape, theft and assault. He was serving a sentence of up to 15 years at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview before being transferred after the attack.
Parks Miller said she is pursuing the maximum penalty for the conviction, but is still trying to determine just what that would be. Best may qualify for a possible life sentence as a three-strikes violator, she said.
“We are grateful for justice in this matter,” she said.
Lori Falce can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @LoriFalce.