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Man accused of Central Park rape faced similar charges in W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A man accused of raping and beating an elderly woman in Central Park was accused of two similar crimes in McDowell County when he was a teenager, more than two decades ago. He served eight years in prison in one of those cases.

New York City police arrested David Albert Mitchell, 42, on Wednesday night in connection with the rape of a 73-year-old birdwatcher and photographer that morning. The victim picked Mitchell out of a lineup on Thursday, and police said he had some of the victim's belongings when he was picked up, The Associated Press reported.

In 1989, when Mitchell was 18, police in McDowell County arrested him and charged him with murder in connection with the sexual assault and fatal beating of Annie Parks, 86, at her home in Jenkinjones.

At the time, West Virginia State Police said they believed robbery was the motive even though nothing was taken from Parks' home. They said Mitchell killed her by hitting her with a blunt object.

Sid Bell, now McDowell County's prosecuting attorney, was in private practice at the time and was appointed to represent Mitchell, Bell said Thursday.

Mitchell was willing to accept a plea deal and plead guilty to murder, Bell said, but prosecutors rejected the plea and the case went to trial. A jury then acquitted Mitchell of the murder charge, Bell said.

Just a few months later, Mitchell was arrested again in McDowell County. Bell said Mitchell was accused of breaking into the home of a woman in her late 70s, raping her and stealing a firearm.

Once again, Bell was appointed to represent Mitchell in court.

"When I was appointed to represent him [the second time], he asked me to get him the best possible plea deal," Bell said.

Bell said prosecutors agreed to drop a sexual assault charge if Mitchell pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery, which he did.

Mitchell was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He served about eight years before he was released on parole, Bell said.

Bell said he had no interaction with Mitchell after that.

In January of this year, Mercer County sheriff's deputies stopped Mitchell because they suspected he might have stolen copper wiring from homes along U.S. 52, according to a report in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

Mitchell had been spotted riding a bicycle that matched the description of a copper thief in the area, according to the newspaper.

Deputies discovered Mitchell was wanted in Tazewell County, Va., for grand larceny. He was extradited to Virginia and was returned to prison before being released, Bell said.

In the New York City incident, police said Mitchell retaliated against a 73-year-old birdwatcher for taking a compromising photo of him, according to the AP.

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

She had also said she thought the assailant was the same man she photographed fondling himself about nine days ago in another, more isolated spot known as the Ramble. She said he demanded she delete the image and tried to grab her camera but didn't succeed, the AP reported.

Mitchell was arrested on rape, predatory sex act and other charges. He also faces separate charges that he threatened a man last month with a knife in the same area of the park.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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