South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
DNA test casts doubt on 1983 Miramar rape and murder case
By Paula McMahon
September 2, 2009
Laboratory testing has shown that a Broward man locked up since he was 15 for the rape and murder of a Miramar woman in 1983 is not the source of the DNA found on the victim's body.
Anthony Caravella, now 41, has spent 25 years, or more than half his life, in prison.
"This means Anthony is innocent, it exonerates him," said Diane Cuddihy, the Broward chief assistant public defender who reopened Caravella's case and has been working on it since 2001.
Carolyn McCann, the Broward prosecutor now in charge of the case, said the test results, which both sides received Wednesday, raise questions and that it is too early to say whether prosecutors will support or oppose Caravella's release.
McCann said she needs to know more about how the private forensic lab that did the testing came up with results so at odds with findings from the Broward Sheriff's Office crime lab eight years ago.
"This is a scientific inquiry at this point," the prosecutor said.
The test, performed by a private lab in Richmond, Calif., eliminated Caravella as a potential source for the sperm found inside the Miramar victim's body 26 years ago.
The test yielded the DNA profile of an unidentified male that could be checked against genetic databases to see if there's a match with anyone on file.
In 2001, the sheriff's crime lab reported that testing of the evidence produced nothing that would either implicate or exonerate Caravella. Further, the technicians said, there was no semen found.
Broward Sheriff's Office spokesman Jim Leljedal said Wednesday that the agency's crime technicians will ask Forensic Science Associates, the California lab, to share their methods and results "so we can take another look at this."
Miramar police, who investigated the 1983 murder with help from the Sheriff's Office, also will review the case in light of the new information, spokeswoman Tania Rues said.
Caravella was arrested when he was 15 and charged with the rape and murder of Ada Cox Jankowski, 58. The victim, who had moved here from England after World War II, was stabbed 29 times and strangled as she walked home from a local bar. Her body was found on the grounds of Miramar Elementary School.
Police soon started to focus on Caravella, who came from a troubled family of 11 children and who frequently stayed with a family that lived near the murder scene.
He has an I.Q. of 67, which experts say is mild mental retardation. He was arrested on an unrelated theft charge, and made progressively more incriminating statements, eventually confessing that he alone killed Jankowski. The defense says that was the sole evidence against him; prosecutors say there is other information that supports the conviction.
The Sun Sentinel started looking into the case in 2001 when Caravella's younger brother, Larry Dunlap, contacted the newspaper after reading about the DNA exonerations of two other men wrongfully convicted in Broward County.
Dunlap, now 30, was 4 at the time of the murder. He said his family never believed Caravella was guilty.
A reporter put Dunlap in touch with the Broward Public Defender's Office. Cuddihy worked diligently on the case, and this year, at the defense's expense, the evidence was sent for testing to California. The prosecution and defense agreed to the step, but not on whether the results could legally prove Caravella's innocence.
Caravella could not be contacted for an interview Wednesday because he is behind bars at Everglades Correctional Institution in western Miami-Dade County. Cuddihy said Caravella reacted calmly when she told him of the test results at about 3 p.m. Wednesday.
He teared up and quietly said, "I told you I didn't do it, Diane" and "When am I going home now?" the lawyer said.
"I'm just shaking inside at the fact that he's been in [prison] all this time," Cuddihy said. She said she will be filing documents in the next few days to try to get the prisoner released.
McCann also noted that the private lab found female DNA on the sample which did not match the victim's. The lab suggested that DNA could have been introduced to the swabs when they were handled at the Sheriff's Office lab.
Edward Blake, one of the scientists who did the recent testing, said he used methods that were also available to the sheriff's lab in 2001. He said the evidence was poorly preserved but usable, and noted that he found sperm, as did the Broward Medical Examiner's Office in the 1983 autopsy.
Asked why the sheriff's lab didn't find it, Blake said: "To be quite candid with you, I don't know."
DNA testing was not available in 1983 and contamination of evidence in old cases is an issue, Leljedal said: "Evidence gathering and preservation procedures were all different when DNA wasn't a factor."
To date, DNA testing has exonerated 241 convicted people nationwide, including two high-profile Broward cases. Frank Lee Smith, 52, died of cancer on Death Row months before DNA tests proved he was innocent in December 2000. Jerry Frank Townsend, now 57, was vindicated in several murders after serving more than 21 years in prison. He was released in 2001.
Paula McMahon can be reached at pmcmahon@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4533.
||Truth in Justice