Rape Suspect Has Long History of Mental Illness

303 East Eighth StreetDaniel Maurer The alleged rape occurred outside of 303 East Eighth Street.

The 51-year-old accused of the brutal and brazen rape of a woman on Eighth Street on Saturday morning spent seven years being shuffled between city jails and state mental health institutions.

Neal Essex, who was scheduled to appear in criminal court today, spent a total of 1,350 days behind bars over the course of seven separate jail bids; all of which were related to a second-degree murder charge in 1984 (The Local was unable to confirm the victim or verdict in the case, but The New York Post reported that Mr. Essex was accused of killing his mother.) Despite all the jail time, Mr. Essex did not end up serving time in the New York prison system, according to a Department of Correctional Services spokeswoman. And, until the alleged rape, he had not been to jail or prison since 1991.

As for why Mr. Essex spent so much time in jail but none in prison, the answer may lie in the fact that after each of his several jail stints — 249 days in 1985, 246 days in 1987 are two examples — he was transferred to state mental health facilities for an indeterminate amount of time, according to Department of Corrections spokeswoman Sharman Stein. The Local is attempting to determine whether this is because Mr. Essex was repeatedly found unfit to stand trial. (The New York State Office of Mental Health would not comment on the matter.)

At Tuesday night’s meeting of the Ninth Precinct Community Council, Lieutenant Patrick Ferguson addressed the crime.

“This was a savage rape,” Mr. Ferguson said. “He was a very bad perp. My feelings are he shouldn’t have even been out on the street — just a complete savage.”

A source familiar with the case confirmed that Mr. Essex was living in a halfway house on Sixth Street prior to allegedly grabbing his victim on Eighth Street near Avenue B at around 8:20 a.m. According to the police, witnesses saw the assault and called 911. DNA Info reported that Mr. Essex allegedly beat and strangled the woman to the brink of death, and that police came upon him still hovering over her with his genitals exposed.