A Baltimore County woman tells investigators that a man broke into her apartment in the middle of the night, covered her head with a T-shirt and raped her.
Nearly three decades later, Baltimore County police say they have the man who did it.
With the arrest of a convicted rapist, the 1978 case becomes the oldest in which charges have been filed as part of the county Police Department's review of past sex crimes.
Edward Dennis Wood, 59, is the 18th person linked through DNA evidence to long-unsolved sex crimes since county police began their review in 2004.
"I think it's wonderful for the victims to be able to put a face and name to the person who assaulted them," said Susan Hazlett, a county prosecutor who has worked on the DNA cases.
The arrest comes at a time when the state continues to dig out from a backlog of thousands of DNA samples to be collected and processed. The backlog, which once numbered 26,000, stood at about 4,000 earlier this summer.
The samples go into a state version of the federal Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, a database used by authorities to identify suspects through DNA.
In 2003, Baltimore County police received a federal grant that enabled the department to assign a detective to review unsolved sex crimes for DNA evidence.
The department identified more than 180 cases in which the victim was still alive and evidence contained DNA, said Bill Toohey, a county police spokesman.
Arrests have been made in 22 cases, with some involving the same suspect, Toohey said. Several men have been convicted, including one man who, found guilty last year of a rape 25 years earlier, was sentenced to 90 years in prison.
Two other men were sentenced in March to 20 years and 25 years, respectively, for abducting and attacking two women in 1986 in the woods of northern Baltimore County.
Police in other counties also use the DNA database. For instance, in Anne Arundel County, police said, five sex crimes have been closed by using the database.
For victims, an arrest can stir traumatic memories but can also provide emotional comfort, said Marie Lilly of TurnAround Inc., a victim counseling service in Baltimore County.
"In a lot of cases, because somebody wasn't caught, the victim wasn't believed," Lilly said. "They now know. It's a vindication that this did happen, that there was someone out there."
She also said that arrests, even for crimes that occurred years ago, make the community safer, pointing to a recent study revealing that "acquaintance rapists" - those who know their victims - assault an average of 14 people.
"Most rapists are repeat serial rapists," Lilly said.
Wood's DNA was matched against semen recovered from the woman after she reported being raped Aug. 26, 1978, court records show. The Sun does not print names of sexual assault victims without their permission.
The woman had fallen asleep watching television in her bedroom in the 1800 block of Snow Meadow Lane, north of Old Pimlico Road and west of Interstate 83 in Baltimore County.
About 3:30 a.m., she was awakened by an unknown man standing over her bed, court records. The man had entered her apartment by cutting a screen and prying open a sliding door, records show.
The man put his hand over the woman's mouth and told her that if she did not scream, he would not hurt her, court records show.
After raping her, he apologized and explained that he had made a bet with a friend, the records show. He told her his name was Dennis and that he had been in the Marine Corps stationed in Iran.
Wood, of the 2000 block of Herbert Ave. in Westminster, was arrested at his home without incident about 7:30 p.m. Friday, police said. He has been charged with first-degree rape and first-degree burglary. He was being held without bail in the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson.
Court records show that Wood served 23 years of a life sentence for the sexual assault of a Baltimore County woman in 1978. He was released in November 2001, a prison spokeswoman said.
Hazlett, of the county state's attorney's office, said that juries have come to expect the submission of DNA evidence, but she added that prosecutors cannot build a case on DNA evidence alone.
"The state has to prove two things: Was it a crime? And who did it?" Hazlett said. "The DNA gives us the who did it."
Sun reporters Jennifer McMenamin and Justin Fenton contributed to this article.
Find related coverage at baltimoresun.com/dna