The story behind the story: Why it took 7 years for a rape-kidnapping to make the news

Daily Post Staff Writer

It took seven years for the public to learn about the kidnapping and rape of a young woman who was found the next morning at Greer Park in Palo Alto — and even then, the story came out through a fluke.

The Palo Alto police never made an announcement when, on Aug. 19, 2011, the Irish woman working as an au pair in Mountain View was found partially clothed, still drunk and with Xanax in her system, under a blanket at Greer Park.

Investigators identified Rodney Taurean Lewis, now 35, as a suspect by reviewing credit card receipts and surveillance video from the now-defunct Rudy’s Pub at 117 University Ave. in Palo Alto, where the woman had started her night and left with Lewis after he promised to help her find her lost cellphone. She blacked out after that.

But neither police nor the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office notified the public when prosecutors arrested Lewis on a warrant and filed charges against him on May 28, 2013.

The case inched through Santa Clara County Superior Court, ultimately going to trial for the first time in 2017.

After the first jury hung 10-2, a second trial started on Feb. 13 and wrapped up Tuesday. Lewis was convicted of rape and kidnapping with the intent to rape, which carries a mandatory lifetime prison sentence.

At no stage of the seven-year case was the rape, kidnapping, arrest, trial or conviction ever announced to the public.

Police Capt. Zach Perron said that detectives were able to identify and interview Lewis early in the investigation, so they didn’t need to put out a press release to find a “predator stalking Greer Park.”

“Typically, we have reserved news releases on warrant arrests for cases where the actual arrest happens relatively contemporaneously to the crime,” Perron told the Post. “Since almost two years had passed between this crime and the arrest, we simply opted not to put out a news release when we arrested him.”

Not in the blotter

Lewis’ arrest wasn’t listed in the police log, which is checked daily by Post reporters.

The Palo Alto police aren’t generally averse to contacting the media. In the week before the rape, the police wrote two press releases about arresting a home burglar and some graffiti suspects.

The week after Lewis was charged, the police announced that a female jogger had escaped from a sexual assault attempt on the Baylands Trail, that a car had hit a pedestrian in a wheelchair and that then-Gov. Jerry Brown had appointed the department’s technical services director to the California State 9-1-1 Advisory Board.

The same week, the District Attorney’s Office announced charges against two chiropractors for medical billing insurance fraud, allegations against two caregivers charged with fraudulently pocketing state reimbursement and a jail sentence for a real estate agent who swindled a 67-year-old man out of his home, car and $200,000.

Neither agency released any information about Lewis’ kidnapping and rape case.

Silence from the DA

Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office spokesman Sean Webby didn’t say why prosecutors hadn’t publicized the case.

“Generically, we try to balance numerous factors in deciding when, and if, we proactively put out information on cases,” Webby said. “The public’s desire for information must be carefully balanced against the defendant’s right to a fair trial, the prosecutor’s obligation to protect victims and witnesses of crime and the integrity of the investigatory process.”
The District Attorney’s Office maintains an online list of “Cases of Media Interest,” Webby pointed out.

That list, last updated on Feb. 14, has five murder cases on it for a county of 2 million people. Four of the cases pertain to alleged killings in San Jose.

Not on it, for example, is the case against Jingyan Jin, the Palo Alto woman accused of stabbing her sister-in-law to death in July 2016.

Neither is the case against Jan Neal, the former pro cyclist accused of beating to death a deaf, mute homeless man in downtown Mountain View in November 2017.

Small DA’s office gives more info

In a county half the size of Santa Clara County, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe provides reporters daily updates on noteworthy cases in court.

On any given day, Bay Area newsrooms receive an email from Wagstaffe with a list of cases set for hearings, a summary of the case and what’s expected to take place in court that day.
Wagstaffe or one of his supervising prosecutors are available on a daily basis to reporters who have questions about the list.

And Wagstaffe, unlike Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, doesn’t employ any media relations employees. Rosen has two full-time communications employees.
The Post finally learned about Lewis’ case on Monday through a coincidence.

Roger Smith, a retired CEO of Silicon Valley Bank and co-founder of the advocacy group Mothers Against Murder, was at the Palo Alto courthouse on Monday for a hearing in another case he’s following.

But that hearing was unexpectedly postponed because Lewis’ trial was wrapping up in the same courtroom, so Smith stuck around and listened to some of the trial. He called the Post afterward because as a Palo Alto resident, he was surprised to hear that a woman had been kidnapped, raped and left at Greer Park in 2011.

“I just fell into it,” Smith told the Post. “I had never heard of this.”

Lewis kept working on his career

No news reports were published about the case, so unlike many other defendants, Lewis’ reputation remained untainted by the charges against him.

That allowed him to continue building a career in the tech industry.

At the time of the rape, Lewis was a lead analyst and community manager at Disney Interactive in Palo Alto, according to his LinkedIn profile.

He then worked for three years as a customer advocate and team lead at Zendesk, a customer service software company in San Francisco.

Since July 2017 Lewis had worked as the senior manager of customer care at Brava Home Inc., a countertop oven company in Redwood City, though his defense attorney told the Post that he was laid off recently.

Lewis was remanded into custody on Tuesday and is scheduled to be sentenced on July 25.

Here’s a link to the Post’s story about Lewis’ conviction.


  1. This is such a frightening incident. The Xanax in her system really points to a Cosby type of rape. It’s a shame that it took 7 years to get this predator off the streets.

  2. April is “Sexual Assault Awareness Month.” We are sorry for what the victim had to go through……7 years, two trials are unimaginable stress in addition to the pain from the horrible criminal act of rape.

    So proud of Roger Smith, the recipient of the 2017 Palo Alto Mid Peninsula Local Hero Award, for caring so much about crime victims and common sense approaches to keeping his town safe.

  3. The victim likely benefitted from her case going unnoticed by the media, and that’s a very good thing. This took a long time time to adjudicate but what a relief he was caught and convicted, which is fairly rare. I hope she is recovering well.

    • To note that overwhelming majority of the reporters are decent, victim sensitive professionals who will not identify the victim,if she/he chose not to be identified/noticed. There is no comfort when a victim is suffering and is unnoticed, just a fact of being human. 7 years is too much time to go unnoticed. It’s unacceptable for many reasons and at many levels. It’s inefficient. It’s wasteful spending of public funds. It’s unnecessary wear and tear even on the physical structure of the court house. Think about it! Santa Clara County must have spent millions on this case. How about the financial losses the victim suffered for every time she had to appear in court? 7 years of back and forth, insane.

  4. I’m sure it was easier for the victim, but the problem with running the justice system in secret is that the public won’t have a clue about whether the process is fair or not. Because the DA and police decided to keep it secret, we don’t really know if he was railroaded because he was black. The defendant has a Sixth Amendment right to have his case handled in public, but if the media isn’t there to observe the administration of justice, that Constitutional right is meaningless.

  5. Margaret, you seem unaware that victim anonymity has nothing to do with journalistic sensitivity and everything to do with state law.

    Palo Alto Voter, you seem unaware how much adjudication of criminal cases takes place without the media caring. In this case, their lack of awareness is on them. Public records aren’t secret, neither are courtroom processes involving adults. The egg here is on the face of journalism. You also seem unaware of how many criminal cases involving minority defendants go unnoticed by the media. Again, that’s on them.

    What a relief that this dangerous criminal is off the streets. Sexual assault is a highly recidivistic crime.

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