In the summer of 2005 my husband and I moved from the town we were both born and raised in, Baltimore, Maryland, to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
We looked forward to a fresh start and a more relaxed lifestyle. Our son would begin high school that fall so it seemed like an ideal time for him to make the transition. Our daughter, in her junior year at University of Maryland, chose to stay behind. My only other ties to the state were my parents who were solidly rooted there and a few close friends.
I was never out of touch with my home town; my daughter, parents, and friends regularly kept me up to date on all the local news and gossip. Had there been any emergency I would have known immediately, so I was baffled by the peculiar call I received from Baltimore on a particular afternoon in the spring of 2009.
I had been out that day when my son answered the telephone and wrote down a message for me. The caller provided only a name and number, no other details, and did not indicate an emergency. The caller’s name began with “detective” and the area code indicated a Baltimore, Maryland telephone number.
I did not know what the call was about, but the little information I had been given peaked my curiosity. Since no details had been shared with my son I assumed that the message was private. Using the process of elimination I had an inkling that the call somehow had to do with my 1980 rape. Still I could not imagine what the detective wanted to talk to me about. I did not want my son who knew nothing about the rape to overhear the conversation, so I promptly returned the call from my bedroom telephone extension.
The detective answered my call and I identified myself. With great care and consideration he explained that what he was about to share with me was a very delicate issue. He said that he was concerned with my emotional fragility. I assured him that I could handle whatever he had to say and told him to speak freely.
He began by telling me that the Baltimore County police department had recently made a discovery. The doctor who had examined me and many other victims at the Baltimore County rape crisis clinic between the years 1970 and 1990 had kept all his patients’ forensic slides. But in all the years the doctor worked at the clinic he never told anyone about the slides or where he kept the box that he put them in. The doctor had passed away never having shared his secret.
Sometime in 2009 a hospital employee accidentally found the box of slides, assumed it was worthless, and was ready to discard it. The police department somehow got wind of the discovery and an investigation began. Realizing that they had stumbled onto a goldmine they obtained a million dollar grant from the state to fund the reopening and reworking of all the cold rape cases from that twenty year span.
My slide from 1980 had been found inside the box. Before I was contacted the slide had been sent to the crime lab to see if it had two sets of DNA on it. It was determined that it did. They also read all my reports to be sure that my case was legitimate. Based on all the facts they decided to move forward with the case. The only thing needed before proceeding was my approval.
I joyously consented to full cooperation and authorized the detective to proceed with the investigation. He was relieved. He told me that most of the women he had contacted had not reacted the way I did and thanked me for making his job much easier.
In order to isolate and identify the perpetrator’s DNA they had to subtract my DNA coding from the mix (my DNA and the perpetrator’s DNA were combined on the slide). They needed a saliva sample from me in order to do that, so the detective arranged with the police department in the county I currently resided in to swab my mouth. The sample was then sent to the Maryland crime lab for processing.
To catch the perpetrator he had to have reoffended after 1994 when the Maryland DNA data base was first established. My case was thirty years old. What was the likelihood that his DNA was registered in the system or that he was even still alive? Even with the evidence at hand the odds did not seem to be in our favor.
The investigation process moved slowly. This was an old case and not a priority for the crime lab. They had new cases coming in every day that took precedent. Several months passed by with the detectives and I impatiently waiting to find out if a match was made.
In November 2009, after waiting six long months, the results finally came in.
The detective called me with good news. We had our man! But the news got even better. Not only was he identified, he was currently sitting in jail awaiting another rape trial. A different detective working on another slide from the same box mine was found in had already matched him to that rape and had him arrested. His DNA had been in the system because he had reoffended.
The victim of the other rape had survived the crime but had since passed away from old age. Her son was advocating on her behalf. I was the only surviving witness so the State felt my case was the stronger one to try.
The perpetrator was a serial rapist. He had raped three women in a fourteen month span; I was the first, the woman who had died years later was the second, and a woman who had been able to identify and prosecute him in the early 1980’s was the third. He had been sentenced to a thirty year prison term for the third woman’s rape but only served ten years.
I had known for many years that I had been lucky to survive my attack but had never realized just how lucky I’d been. Because my incident had not been violent I’d always believed that the rapist was not a violent man. My perception totally changed once I learned the details of his encounter with his second victim and saw the crime scene photos. It was a harsh dose of reality—this man was a vicious animal.
His second victim had been violently attacked. The fifty-eight year old woman had fought for her life. He had beaten her up and broken her ribs. Then he tied her hands together, tied a rope around her neck so tight that it cut through to her larynx, and hung her upside down in a closet. He robbed her house and left her for dead. She managed to untie her hands, break loose, and crawl out of the closet. Her son came home, found her on the floor bleeding profusely, and called for help. Luckily her life was spared, but she never recovered emotionally.
Since DNA evidence is indisputable the perpetrator was backed into a corner. He had been charged with four counts in my case. On the advisement of his court-appointed attorney, on February 24, 2010 he entered a guilty plea to one count of first degree rape. By pleading out to one count he avoided a jury trial. He also hoped the judge would be more lenient during sentencing.
We were happy with the plea. The evidence was overwhelming so we knew his sentence was not going to be light, and I was spared the stress of having to testify at a trial and relive the experience. Since he confessed there would be no trial, only sentencing before a judge.
The sentencing was scheduled for May 20, 2010. The option of attending or not attending the sentencing was mine, but I was not going to pass up the chance to finally look my rapist in the eye after all those years and witness his punishment.
My husband, parents, and best friend were with me in the courtroom on the day of sentencing as were all those who took part in solving the case. The son of the woman who had died had come to witness the sentencing as well.
Before handing down the sentence the judge allowed me to stand up and face the man who had raped me thirty years before. It was the first time I had ever seen his face. Cleaned up he looked no different than any other man—not the least bit intimidating. My attacker looked me right in the eyes and listened intently as I read my emotionally-charged victim’s impact statement. It was the most empowering moment of my life.
When I finished reading my statement the man was given the opportunity to read his own statement. He continually sobbed as he admitted to his crime. He faced me and my family, apologized for the pain he had caused us, and asked for forgiveness. His words were nice to hear but they did not help his case. The judge gave him the maximum sentence of life in prison for the crime committed against me. Already sixty years old, the man would die in prison. The convict was then led away and the courtroom was adjourned.
The victory was joyous for everyone involved. Tears were free-flowing and hugs were abundant. Everyone on the investigative and prosecuting teams thanked me individually for helping them put this guy away. After all the emotional exchanges had been made we said our goodbyes and parted ways.
Back in my hotel room that night I slept soundly for the first time in thirty years. I did not wake to remember that fateful night so many years before nor have I awoken to the memory any night since. I guess my soul needed closure before it could rest peacefully.
What happened in my life is a miracle. Now I know that anything is possible. Never say, “never.”
Continued From: Never Say Never, Part Two
I have shared this very personal aspect of my life not to wallow in my past or to tell a tale of woe. My past has been resolved and my story lives on only through the messages of hope, inspiration, and encouragement it offers others.
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“In the lab” – By Alfred Hermida on foter – Some rights reserved
“At The Microphone” – By Andrew Feinberg on flickr – Some rights reserved