Database links theft suspect to rape of city woman in '97

March 19, 2004|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A 41-year-old man recently accused by police of being a member of a group that committed more than 100 thefts from drug dealers and others in a monthlong crime spree has been charged with raping a Northwest Baltimore woman six years ago, authorities said yesterday.

Thomas Covell of the 3400 block of Forest Park Ave. was charged with first-degree rape Wednesday in the 1997 rape of a 34-year-old woman after a state computer database linked his DNA to evidence collected from the crime, police said.

The DNA of convicted felons in Maryland is supposed to be collected and stored in a state DNA database for comparison to crimes. Covell pleaded guilty in 1995 to robbery with a deadly weapon, court records show.

The DNA link was one of 24 this year in city rape investigations. Officials expect to generate more "hits" as felons are added to the state database, and as the city continues to reduce a backlog of about 4,000 rape and homicide cases.

Detective Bernard Holthaus said that the victim in the 1997 rape was walking south on Garrison Boulevard on Oct. 10 when a man wielding a 7-inch knife grabbed her. "Come with me, don't say a word," the man told the woman, according to Holthaus.

The man led the woman into an alley and sexually assaulted her - at one point threatening to cut her with the knife, Holthaus said.

The victim reported the crime and police collected DNA evidence, Holthaus said. After the DNA link this month, the woman identified Covell as her attacker in a photo lineup, Holthaus said.

Covell was arrested March 2 and accused by police of being a member of a group of men who dressed like police officers and bail bondsmen and robbed people on street corners. Many victims were drug dealers, others associated with the narcotics trade or people who were gambling, police said.

Detectives said they believed the group committed more than 100 robberies, but only a handful were reported.

Covell, who is being held without bail, has also been charged with attempted murder in a Northeast Baltimore shooting last month.

With the help of a $4 million federal grant and money from a local foundation, city police say they have been making steady progress during the past two years in reducing a large backlog of rape and homicide investigations. The backlog stood at 5,000 cases in 2002.

This year, a state database has linked 18 rapes to known felons. Three times it has linked two rapes to each other, but police do not have suspects in those cases.

The database generated 47 links last year, said Mark Profili, a supervisor in the city Police Department's crime laboratory.

About two-thirds of the city's unsolved rape cases have evidence that can be used for DNA comparison, Profili said.

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