Man gets 15 years in rape of teen

Victim's persistence made police reopen 1983 case

October 01, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Nearly two decades after she was raped, Laura Neuman faced her attacker in Baltimore Circuit Court yesterday, describing the agony she went through as the crime went unsolved and the years she spent trying to persuade detectives to reopen the case.

"It's been 19 years of hell," Neuman told Alphonso Hill, 50, who pleaded guilty to second-degree rape. "I live every single night in fear because of what you did."

Hill was sentenced to 15 years in prison as part of a plea agreement accepted by Judge John M. Glynn. In April, police matched Hill's fingerprints with those found on Neuman's window the night she was raped in 1983.

A college student studying psychology at Coppin State College when he was arrested five months ago, Hill immediately confessed to the crime, according to Assistant State's Attorney Adam Rosenberg, who prosecuted the case.

Hill told police he had a history of being a Peeping Tom and of exhibiting lewd behavior. He confessed to detectives that he had seen Neuman through her bedroom window, broke in and attacked her in her bed.

"I wish I was caught earlier in life so I wouldn't be going to jail so old," Hill told the court.

It is likely Hill would not have been caught at all if Neuman had given up on her case.

"I was always determined that at some point it would be resolved. I knew that even though it was 19 years ago, there was evidence police could use," said Neuman, 37, who now lives in Annapolis. "I didn't have any doubt that if I could get them to pay attention, the case would be solved."

As a matter of policy, The Sun does not usually identify victims of sexual assault. Neuman agreed to allow her name to be published, saying that she wanted to tell her story and provide public insight into a rape victim's ordeal.

Neuman, who grew up in the Northwood section of Baltimore, was an 18-year-old student at Essex Community College on Oct. 14, 1983.

She was asleep in a house she shared with a roommate in the 1000 block of Woodson Road when two men appeared in her bedroom, one carrying a gun.

The man put the gun against her and told her not to scream. He raped her, then left her in her bed.

After Neuman's roommate came home, they called the police. Detectives recovered two fingerprints from her window, where they believe Hill broke into her house.

But there was little detectives could do with the prints at the time because there was no centralized, electronic database of fingerprints that they could use to link the evidence with a suspect.

If they had such a database at the time, they would have found a match with Hills' fingerprints. He had been arrested and convicted four times between 1975 and 1983 for crimes such as trespassing, assault, and a fourth-degree sex offense. He served short spells in jail.

After no suspects emerged in Neuman's case, Hill's fingerprints were preserved in police evidence files. Neuman's rape file was sent to the "cold case" squad.

Nine years later, state police developed the Maryland Automated Fingerprint Identification System, known as MAFIS, a computerized repository of tens of thousands of fingerprints collected in unsolved cases. But at that time, the only fingerprints from unsolved city crimes that were entered into the database were from old homicide cases.

Police did not have the capacity or staff to enter fingerprints from other unsolved crimes, said Ed Koch, director of the Baltimore police crime lab.

Hill was convicted five more times between 1983 and 2000 for drug crimes and burglary.

Neuman tried to get on with her life, going to college and earning her master's degree in business. She began her career as a manager of technology companies, but said she was not able to form close romantic relationships.

As the years passed, she would periodically call the police, asking about her case. She said detectives rarely returned her phone calls.

Finally, two detectives, Bernard Holthaus and Chester Norton, took an interest. They entered the preserved prints from Neuman's rape file into the fingerprint database and got a hit.

"I was persistent," Neuman said. "It's absurd, a sad commentary that it has to come down to that. I found detectives who were willing to take on the case. We need to give police the resources to make this happen for other people."

Police say they have evidence from 3,400 unsolved rapes.

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