In the latest "cold case" to be solved through the state's DNA database, a 38-year-old man pleaded guilty yesterday to the rape and bludgeoning death of a woman he abducted as she walked home from work during a 1989 snowstorm.
Anthony Mitchell admitted in Baltimore Circuit Court that he killed Charlene Hardin, 20, and left her body under the bleachers of the old Kirk Avenue Field House in Northeast Baltimore.
Mitchell, who is serving 25 years for an unrelated sex offense, is part of the first batch of Baltimore felons convicted through DNA testing for so-called cold cases, or unsolved crimes. He admitted to the crime in court on what would have been Hardin's 33rd birthday.
"This is every parent's worst nightmare and every woman's worst fear," said Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris. "I'm happy we actually solved it. Cold cases are not just brown folders, they're people. This is a great example of what can be done."
Baltimore police are overloaded with 5,100 cold cases for unsolved rapes and murders.
The solution of the Hardin mystery was a relief for her family, as well as police detectives who wrestled with the case for 13 years.
"This satisfied my own curiosity, gave me some peace of mind," said John Hardin, 51, Charlene's father. "I'm glad it's finally resolved. For a long time, I thought this would be an unsolved crime."
Mitchell did not visibly react yesterday as Assistant State's Attorney Gerard B. Volatile read a statement to the court, including excerpts of an interview Mitchell had with police, when he explained how he dragged Hardin through a field, raped her and killed her with a cinderblock.
Mitchell will be sentenced Aug. 1 before Judge Roger Brown. His plea agreement indicates he will receive two life sentences to be served concurrently, with all but 40 years suspended. He will begin serving the time in 2017, when his current sentence expires.
At the time of the crime, the scene offered few clues for police, except for traces of bodily fluid found on the victim. Mitchell was never a suspect.
"This guy never figured into the picture at all," said Donald E. Worden of the homicide unit, who investigated the case as a detective, then as a civilian contract employee in the department's cold case squad. "I can tell you, this is a case I've never forgotten."
In 1992, Mitchell was convicted of attempted rape, and his DNA was placed in a database, as is customary for those convicted of murder, child abuse or sex offenses.
His DNA was preserved in a police refrigerator for almost a decade, until last year, when police reached an agreement with the ABC News program 20/20 to help finance DNA tests in 50 dormant cases, including Hardin's.
The DNA taken from a sperm sample found on Hardin's thigh was sent to a lab in Virginia. The lab sent back a DNA profile, which police ran through their database. Mitchell was a match.
Police then took a blood sample from Mitchell to confirm his DNA. Soon after, Mitchell admitted to the crime.
Police have solved about 10 cases so far from the 50 financed by 20/20. They have since gotten about $7,000 more in city and private grants and are working on matching DNA from 125 other cases.
Next month, the state expects to receive $5 million from the federal government, which will help investigate about 2,000 more cases with DNA, said Ed Koch, director of the Baltimore police crime laboratory. Many of them will be from Baltimore.
"You can solve cases going back 10, 15, 20 years," Koch said. "You see the results when it brings closure for the families, like happened today. This guy is off the street and he will be punished for what he did to their daughter. She didn't even have a chance to live."
Charlene Hardin had just earned her high school equivalency diploma before she was killed. Three months earlier, she started a job cleaning office buildings in Towson. The night of her murder, her father offered to pick her up from work because there was a snowstorm outside.
Instead, she was dropped off near her house by the company van. The van couldn't make it all the way to her house because the streets were icy and slick. She decided to walk two blocks to her family home.
"Then she encountered Anthony Mitchell," her father said.
John Hardin, a traffic maintenance supervisor for the city, said yesterday as he was leaving the courthouse that he was on his way to his daughter's grave.
"I want to let her know what happened," he said.