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DNA ruling jeopardizes Maryland rape convictions

Baltimore woman forced to relive years-old crime

June 09, 2012|By Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun

Today, the Sandtown-Winchester woman, dressed in a flowing white tunic cinched at her waist with a black belt, trendy black knee-high boots and her hair pinned back in a wispy ponytail, is tiny. She weighs about 110 pounds and stands 5-feet-4-inches tall.

At the time of the rape, she said, she was less than 100 and barely taller than 5 feet, and she knew she couldn't overpower the 6-foot-tall Brown, who weighed in at 175 pounds.

Court documents described the scene: The cab driver, a man who was never identified, had glanced back continuously throughout the ordeal.

After Brown had raped her, he looked up at the cab driver, and asked him a question, and asked "if he wanted some."

The driver said no.

By that time, the cab was stopped in the back of a parking lot at 2159 Patapsco Ave.

Brown shoved her out of the sedan in front of some large trash bins and told her to face them or he would shoot her.

After the cab pulled away, she wandered into a nearby pizza shop in Baltimore's Lakeland neighborhood, her faced stained with tears, and asked the people behind the counter to call 911 to tell police she had been raped. When they stared at her and did nothing, she walked to a pay phone in front of a 7-Eleven and dialed the police.

Delsie Parker, the detective who investigated the crime, testified that it was Brown's final action, pushing the girl out of the car in front of the trash bins, that caused that rape — out of the 300 or 400 she investigated over a decade — to haunt her.

"I was upset. I remember thinking, 'Wow. Not only was she raped, but the suspect kicked her out like trash,'" Parker testified at Brown's trial.

Parker said she chased the case cold. She investigated sedan companies in Cherry Hill, searched for cabs that matched the victim's description and tried to find the man the victim had originally mistaken the suspect for, the one who flirted with her aunt at the convenience store.

When Parker was reassigned to a new unit, she stopped communicating with the victim and her family.

"Before you left were there any new leads to follow in the case?" the prosecutor asked Parker at trial.

"No there was not. We were waiting … [for] a possible DNA hit."

DNA evidence leads to convictions

While Brown's victim waited to hear from police, Gov. Martin O'Malley, in one of his first big legislative victories, shepherded an expanded DNA law through the 2008 General Assembly session. The law, one of the most contentious issues of the session, became effective on Jan. 1, 2009.

It authorized DNA samples to be collected after an arrest for a violent crime, a burglary or the attempt to commit a violent crime or a burglary. Previously, law enforcement was only able to collect DNA after a conviction.

By that time, the victim had long thought she had heard the last from police.

"I will never forget, but I tried to move on with my life," she said recently. "It all came back up when the detectives came and knocked on my door."

Maryland's new DNA sampling law had been in effect less than two months when Brown was arrested on six charges related to his alleged sexual abuse of 7- and 8-year-old relatives in his Lansdowne apartment, according to court records.

On Feb. 25, 2009, an officer in Baltimore County swiped a cotton swab on the inside of Brown's cheek. That sample was sent to a lab to be tested and the results were entered into a statewide cold case database.

The sample matched two unsolved cases: the 2004 rape in Cherry Hill and a similar case involving a 14-year-old girl on Aug. 11, 2000, near Lake Montebello in Baltimore. The teen was attacked after she accepted a ride in a station wagon while waiting for a bus at 33rd Street and The Alameda, according to police records.

Brown has steadfastly maintained his innocence in each of the cases.

Detective Smith, then a 15-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department, had been assigned to the 2004 case. She drove to the victim's house, slipped her business card in the victim's front door and waited for a call.

On June 9, 2009, Detective Smith and her partner arrived at the young woman's house with a printout of six photos, one of which pictured Brown. Smith had used a computer program to create the photo lineup, selecting photos of Brown and five other men with complexions, features and hairstyles similar to his.

The victim slid into the back seat of the police cruiser and Smith handed her the printout, face down.

"She flipped it over and she became visibly upset," Smith said at Brown's trial. "She cried and she identified Mr. Brown as the person who assaulted her."

The victim circled the photo of Brown, signed her name next to it and on the back she wrote, "He is the guy who raped me."

Legal implications

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