St. Louis Post Dispatch

November 24, 2005

A real life 'Cold Case'

by Bill Bryan

  • The crime 'Gail' was attacked and raped in her home in Dogtown.
  • The aftermath A man was charged and confessed, but was released when his DNA was not found at the scene. The crime remained unsolved.
  • The law In January, a law was passed authorizing DNA samples from everyone convicted of a felony, not just dangerous criminals.
  • The hit DNA from James Fujimoto (who was in jail for auto tampering and forgery convictions) matched DNA from the crime scene.
  • The result Fujimoto was arrested when he met with his parole officer. He is currently in jail and charged with 13 felonies.
* * *
 
Steven Judd told St. Louis police that he brutally raped a woman in her Dogtown home in 2003.
 
DNA told detectives that Judd did not do it.
 
James T. Fujimoto told St. Louis police he did not rape the woman that night.
 
DNA told detectives that he did.
 
In a single case, regarded by those close to it as one of the most brutal sex crimes they ever saw a victim survive, DNA showed its power to exonerate and to implicate.
 
Judd, a drifter who police said never explained his bogus confession, was fortunate that the attack occurred at a time when biological evidence -- in this case semen -- could be tied by DNA to a particular person.
 
The arrest of Fujimoto was made possible by a law that took effect Jan. 1, requiring DNA testing of all Missouri's felons. It replaced a 1994 law that required testing only of convicts sentenced for violent or sex crimes.
 
Fujimoto, who police said has since admitted the attack, did not have violent crimes in his prison record.
 
The victim said she was pleased with the arrest but scared. "I still have a lot of fear," she told a reporter. "I'm not totally sure that I feel any safer now. The man who attacked me said he'd come back and get me."
 
She asked to go by her middle name, Gail, and not reveal the city to which she has moved.
 
"Without the 'all felon' provision, this case would not have been solved, because we wouldn't have his DNA," said police Sgt. Stephen Dougherty, supervisor of the sex crimes detectives.
 
Assistant Circuit Attorney Ed Postawko, who is in charge of prosecuting sex offenders, said Gail's case illustrates the significance of the new law. "This is a classic example of its importance," he said. "This case jumps right out."
 
Gail, 23, was asleep at home in the 6300 block of Berthold Avenue early on Sept. 1, 2003, when a stranger with a metal baseball bat confronted her.
 
"I remember parts of it," Gail said. "Parts were blank. ... I know I was raped and sodomized, made to shower and tied up for three hours.
 
"I remember bleeding in the bathroom. I remember that when I came to, I couldn't use my legs."
 
Kathleen Hanrahan, the director of the St. Louis Regional Sexual Assault Center, called it "the most horrific thing I've ever seen, and I've seen 4,000 sexual assaults." She added, "He almost killed her."
 
Gail narrowly escaped blindness from one of the bat's blows.
 
"They rebuilt a third of my face," she said. "I've got a new cheekbone and eye socket. It's taken a while to get used to my new image. You can't see many of the scars.
 
"You could say that I'm aesthetically changed."
 
Her psychological recovery has been more challenging. She said that after the attack, she lived like a hermit.
 
"I was so closed off. It was a terrifying prospect just getting the mail. He would know I'm alone."
 
When Gail finally got the nerve to leave her home, she realized that any man could be the attacker -- she didn't know what he looked like.
 
A confession
 
Within hours of the rape, police found a 20-year-old drifter from Kentucky, Steven Judd, wandering in nearby Turtle Park. He told them he had been sleeping in parks and under viaducts while on his way to Wyoming.
 
Judd made a videotaped confession, police said, and was charged with rape, robbery and other crimes. Two months later, detectives were shocked to learn that DNA showed the semen was not Judd's. He was released on Nov. 15, 2003.
 
"I asked Judd, 'Why did you confess if you didn't do it?'" said Detective Mike McQuillen, who had arrested and questioned him. "He just looked at me funny. He didn't have an answer."
 
The development jarred Gail, who said, "I thought he used magic to beat the DNA.
 
"I was convinced he was going to come and get me."
 
Gail even wondered if there might have been an accomplice, explaining another man's DNA.
 
Fujimoto, 24, of south St. Louis County, was a stranger to Gail and never a suspect in the attack. He had served time in prison for auto tampering and forgery.
 
Under standard procedures, authorities took a saliva swab on April 26 as Fujimoto was being paroled. The Missouri State Highway Patrol lab put the results into a national database, to compare against blood, semen, skin cells, hair and saliva and other material DNA evidence from unsolved crimes.
 
On Sept. 24, the lab reported the match to Fujimoto. He was arrested four days later.
 
At first, he denied the crime, Dougherty said. "When we told him about the DNA, he gave us a full statement."
 
At the time, Fujimoto was under investigation in connection with a series of break-ins and purse thefts from women's cars parked outside of health clubs in Town & Country, Sunset Hills, Des Peres and Frontenac, said Detective Sgt. Rick Kranz of Town & Country. Authorities believe their suspect had stalked his victims.
 
Fujimoto is held in the St. Louis Justice Center in lieu of $1 million bail, charged with 13 felonies, including rape, sodomy, assault and burglary.
 
If he goes to trial, Gail said, she will muster the courage to testify even though his arrest made her apprehensive all over again. "I remember Mike (McQuillen) assuring me that Judd would never get out. Now, the police are trying to reassure me that Fujimoto will never get out.
 
"I know it might not make sense, but what if he does get out and come after me?"
 
A DNA backlog
 
Bill Marbaker, assistant director of the Highway Patrol crime lab, said the lab has been inundated with DNA samples since the "all felon" provision took effect. From Jan. 1 through October, the lab has received 28,287 samples and analyzed 13,191, leaving a backlog of 15,096. With new samples flowing in, he said, it might take three to five years to catch up.
 
From January through October, the checking identified 118 suspects in old crimes, including 87 among the non-violent offenders, he said.
 
Gail's was not the first big case broken here by the DNA testing of all felons.
 
In June, Currie Lindsey, 37, was charged with the murder of 74-year-old Arline Wiemann, who was found raped, suffocated and beaten in her bed in an apartment in the 4300 block of Nebraska Avenue on May 21, 1997.
 
Lindsey, never a suspect in Wiemann's death, had numerous arrests and convictions, most of them for drug offenses. None was for a violent or sex crime. His sample went into the system March 28, just three days before his parole would have expired and with it the state's ability to compel him to cooperate.
 
"It's really exciting for us here in the lab to see these big cases get solved," Marbaker said. "We knew all along that we were going to see a tremendous number of hits and we're starting to see it.
 
"Our lab people are so excited," he added. "They're coming in to work nights and weekends because they want to. It's just nuts around here."
 
Police Capt. James Gieseke, commander of the Crimes Against Persons Division, said systematic DNA testing is enormously important. "Jurors love it. Prosecutors love it. Many defendants plead out when faced with DNA evidence against them."
 
Chief of Detectives Tim Reagan said he dreams of a day when DNA testing becomes universal. "I'd like to see everybody -- not just criminals -- entered into the database. It's non-obtrusive. A person could be swabbed when they get their drivers license."
 
The funding that keeps the test program going comes from court fees -- $15 for each misdemeanor and $30 for each felony. Mary Beth Karr, the St. Louis police DNA technical leader, said she worries a little that the fund could be depleted because anyone exonerated by DNA can get restitution from the same money.
 
So far, only one man has been found eligible for the restitution; in August, Anthony D. Woods was exonerated by DNA after serving 18 years for rape and was awarded $328,500.
 
But Susanne Brenneke, the state DNA program administrator, isn't too concerned. "The law is doing what we anticipated," she said. "I think the legislators see the value of it."
 

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