(AP) NEW YORK (AP) - A woman who fabricated a gang rape accusation was sentenced Tuesday to up to three years behind bars herself, saying she was riven with remorse for sending an innocent man to prison.
Biurny Peguero, 27, pleaded guilty in December to perjury, admitting she made up the September 2005 incident that unjustly put construction worker William McCaffrey in jail and prison for nearly four years. A judge overturned his rape conviction in December, with new DNA evidence also playing a role.
"I question myself every day as to how I could have done this," Peguero told a Manhattan state court judge.
Peguero originally said McCaffrey was the ringleader among three men who raped her at knifepoint after luring her into their car. She met them after a night out at a Manhattan nightclub with female friends.
McCaffrey, now 32, said she had agreed to go with them to a party. He said they dropped her off unharmed after she changed her mind.
But jurors spurned his account after hearing from Peguero, among other witnesses. She went on to speak at his sentencing hearing, saying, "Justice has finally been served." He was sentenced to 20 years in prison; no one else was convicted.
Peguero came to believe her lie because she had been too drunk to remember much of the night in question, according to a report from a psychiatrist who examined Peguero at her lawyer's request.
Prosecutors have said she told them she claimed she was raped to make her friends feel sorry for her. Assistant District Attorney Evan Krutoy suggested Tuesday that she may have lied out of anger at a man who had upset - but not attacked - her.
"I don't know the reason why, but she wanted to do this," he said, urging a two- to six-year sentence.
Defense lawyer Paul F. Callan noted that Peguero came forward to clear McCaffrey, approaching a priest and then authorities this year to recant. Meanwhile, new DNA tests had shown that a wound on Peguero's arm came from at least two women - apparently friends she was fighting with - and not McCaffrey.
Peguero, who has an infant and a 7-year-old, admitted her lie knowing it could mean prison time for her, he said. He pushed for her to get probation instead.
Peguero, of Union City, N.J., got a sentence of one to three years in prison.
Still, after she handcuffed to await transportation to jail, "she told me that she was at peace with herself," Callan said later Tuesday. "She knew that she was going to be punished, but she knew that she had done the right thing."
For his part, McCaffrey's lawyer sent Peguero's judge a letter noting she had made a bold move to right the wrong she had committed.
"Although we are upset about her lies that caused, in part, his conviction, we do applaud her courage in coming forward," the lawyer, Glenn A. Garber, said in an interview.
As a member of the Exoneration Initiative, a New York-based group that provides free legal help challenging convictions, Garber depicted the case as a reminder that lies can end up carrying legal weight, even in an era of DNA and other forensic evidence.
"This case gives you a window into false testimony and makes clear that people can give detailed of accounts of events that are untrue," he said.