By Noeleen Walder
NEW YORK (Reuters) - After more than two months in seclusion and anonymity, the hotel maid who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her is telling her story and hoping for success in the court of public opinion.
But legal experts say talking to the media at this point is a risky tactic that could weaken the prosecution's case against Strauss-Kahn and reduce the woman's chances of winning a civil suit, which her lawyers said she intends to file shortly.
"I think the decision to come forward is a desperate gambit to try to put pressure on the prosecution to consider not dropping the case," said Alan Dershowitz, a well-known criminal-defense attorney.
Dershowitz said that while this move could ultimately succeed, "it's a high-risk tactic, obviously devised by her lawyer, who may see a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."
Originally cast as a victim with a steadfast story, Nafissatou Diallo's credibility was called into serious doubt after prosecutors alleged she lied on her asylum application and gave varying accounts of her actions after the May 14 encounter at the Sofitel hotel in Manhattan.
Kenneth Thompson, one of Diallo's attorneys, insists the purpose of the media offensive is to counter her negative and inaccurate portrayal in the media.
"Ms. Diallo came forward to clear her name," he said. "She is not a prostitute or a hooker or a con artist trying to shake down DSK. ... She is the victim of a brutal sexual assault."
RISKS OF SPEAKING OUT
In an interview with Newsweek -- part of a well-orchestrated media blitz one week before Strauss-Kahn's next court date -- Diallo, 32, said of Strauss-Kahn: "I want him to go to jail. I want him to know there are some places you cannot use your power, you cannot use your money."
Diallo, who also gave an interview to the ABC TV network, described in graphic detail how the former International Monetary Fund chief forced her to perform oral sex in his suite at the upscale Sofitel hotel in midtown Manhattan.
Strauss-Kahn has vehemently denied the allegations.
Defense attorney Daniel Petrocelli said that whatever her reasons for coming forward, it cannot help her cause.
Petrocelli, who brought a wrongful-death civil suit against O.J. Simpson after his murder acquittal, said Diallo risks being accused of trying to capitalize financially on the case.
Strauss-Kahn's attorneys, William Taylor and Benjamin Brafman, have already denounced Diallo's decision to come forward, saying in a statement she is "the first accuser in history to conduct a media campaign to persuade a prosecutor to pursue charges against a person from whom she wants money."
Those arguments will be used to undermine her credibility in a civil case, Petrocelli said. "I think she's likely to draw substantial criticism that she didn't have to attract."
Defense lawyer Daniel Arshack said going public was a "terrible move," and said Diallo's credibility could be impeached by inconsistencies between her public statements, her statements to police and prosecutors and any testimony she may give at a trial.
For example, defense attorneys could hone in on divergent accounts Diallo purportedly gave of Strauss-Kahn's behavior during the alleged attack
According to Newsweek, hospital records state Strauss-Kahn "said nothing" to Diallo during the incident. That conflicts with an account Diallo gave police and Newsweek in which she recounted a number of statements she said Strauss-Kahn made in the hotel room.
Her story of what happened following the alleged attack could also provide fodder for the defense.
Diallo initially told prosecutors she stood in the hallway while Strauss-Kahn left the suite. She later said she returned to his room before reporting the incident, an account backed up by card-key records.
"The last thing that any attorney wants is to lock their client into a version of events that quite possibly does not fit with the actual evidence," Arshack said.
A prominent defense attorney who declined to be named said Diallo's TV appearances also give Strauss-Kahn's lawyers plenty of new material to undermine the prosecution's case. For example, he said, a contrived expression, or the appearance of insincerity, could provide fodder for cross-examination.
But Judd Burstein, who runs a litigation boutique in Manhattan, said Diallo's decision to speak out is a smart move that could help rehabilitate her image in the press.
"She has been put in the box of being a con woman, and so it's important for her to be seen as a human being," he said. "It's much easier to condemn or dismiss a faceless person."
"If she's out there as a victim decrying that she's not getting justice, it puts pressure on the prosecution to move forward," Burstein said.
(Reporting by Noeleen Walder; editing by Jesse Wegman and Todd Eastham)