•Investigators were able to track down a 49-year-old man who raped an elderly Roland Park woman in her home in 2007, a crime that resulted in a sentence of life plus 35 years. Roger Ervin's DNA match cleared another man who had been wrongly charged.
•Last week, Gregory Brown, 43, was sentenced to life with all but 30 years suspended after being found guilty of a first-degree sex offense in a 2004 attack. A second rape charge, in which he is accused of forcing sex at knifepoint in a Mount Vernon alley, is pending.
•Orville Cooper, 27, was charged in four rapes that police say occurred over a span of a few months in 2006. He has been convicted in one of the cases, the rape of a Fort Meade cook who missed the bus in West Baltimore and accepted his offer of a ride. The other cases are pending.
At Cooper's trial, prosecutor Katherine Moxley Smeltzer told jurors, "The question is, who did it? It's not a question. Science is going to tell you who did it."
The victim's tearful testimony helped persuade jurors to convict Cooper, who is appealing a 70-year sentence handed down by Circuit Judge Barry Williams.
But the flood of new DNA information initially overwhelmed detectives, and when two officers assigned to the cold case squad retired, the matches began to pile up — some two years old or more. The accusers, often transient or troubled, were difficult to find.
Cases that progressed, in turn, often brought challenges for prosecutors. Few victims were able to identify their attackers. Some said they never got a good look to begin with; others said they had trouble remembering because of the time that had passed.
Many were content to put the trauma behind them, choosing not to reopen old wounds even with the prospect of ensuring that their attacker would be punished.
"They were going to dig into my background," said a woman who reported an attack in Park Heights in 2000. "I gave them everything. [When they dropped the case] I was disappointed, and then I was scared. I didn't want to go through all this."
The Baltimore Sun does not identify alleged victims of sex crimes.
According to police records, detectives sought charges only if accusers agreed to work with authorities. But prosecutors said some apparently had a change of heart as their cases moved through the legal system, and they cited a lack of cooperation as the most common reason for shelving cases. In some instances, charges were dropped within weeks of being filed.
"It's troubling to hear cases are being dropped, particularly that quickly," said Jennifer Gentile Long, a former Philadelphia district attorney and director of AEquitas, a consulting and training program for prosecutors in cases that involve violence against women. "Sometimes the cases are hard, but that's what the offender is counting on. … We should have a system where people want to engage."
While Baltimore prosecutors have held to a maxim of "no victim, no case," critics say that oversimplifies the options and misinterprets the section of the Constitution that deals with suspects' right to confront witnesses.
A policy of dropping cases unless a victim is willing to testify is "nonsense," said Richard D. Friedman, a University of Michigan law professor who writes and blogs about the confrontation clause of the Constitution. An accuser's documented injuries, for example, could suffice to prove that sex was not consensual, he said.
"The fact is, in many cases there can be sufficient evidence for prosecution without testimony of the victim," Friedman said. "Sometimes it's a matter of prosecutorial choice."
Still, experts say that pursuing a sex case without the cooperation of the accuser is difficult and rarely occurs.
While friction between high-level city police and prosecutors is well-documented, Joseph Peters, a former Baltimore sex crimes detective, said the personnel investigating sex offenses in the two agencies have worked well together. He did not fault prosecutors for breakdowns in court.
"There were some cases where we had all kinds of evidence — on the outside it looked like the perfect case — and then when you try to take it to trial it would go downhill," said Peters, who retired from the Baltimore force in 2008 and now works for the Harford County sheriff's office. "We'll still try to give it a shot, but sometimes there's not a whole lot more we could do."
A woman who alleged that she was attacked in Park Heights on Aug. 30, 2000, said she had ordered a pizza for her family and was headed home from work when she was approached by two men who dragged her to the rear of a building in a residential area and raped her at gunpoint.
"The place I was walking through was nice and bright, but they snatched me in the alley," she said in a recent interview. "They beat me with a gun. … I'll never forget it."