Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Hurray for Facts

DNA Catches Rape-Murderer

Usually we hear the opposite story. How an Innocence Project has freed a guilty man from prison using DNA. Here's the opposite...

Twenty-five years a family has waited, waited and suffered, wondering if there wasn't possibly something they might have done differently to have prevented their child from dying. A rookie cop, now a senior investigator, finally solved the case a quarter of a century later.

Hit the link for a video of her father... I don't know what to say.

Chicago Tribune

Paul Echols was a rookie patrolman the night police were called to the apartment of 23-year-old Southern Illinois University student Deborah Sheppard. Her front door was ajar and her nude body lay inside.

Although he wasn't working the case that night, April 8, 1982, he soon became familiar with the murder of the senior marketing major from Olympia Fields. In February, Echols -- now the Downstate Police Department's head of investigations -- sought permission to take another look at the case.

His hope was that DNA technology might provide a break. Evidence from the murder scene was retested. A match was made, and on Thursday, Echols traveled to the Big Muddy Correctional Facility in rural Johnson County to arrest Timothy Krajcir, 62, in Sheppard's sexual assault and strangulation.

Krajcir, a serial sex offender with a rap sheet dating to the early 1960s, is charged with four felony counts related to Sheppard's slaying.

The charges end 25 years of frustration for Sheppard's family, which had long ago stopped talking much about the murder.

"I owe Paul Echols a debt of gratitude that I can never repay," Bernie Sheppard, Deborah's father, said Friday. "I know that he and others have spent countless hours on Deborah's case over the years, and there's no way my family could ever repay them."

For 25 years, Bernie Sheppard said, he has regretted not being with his daughter to protect her. The weekend his daughter was murdered, he and his wife along with their other two daughters had planned to visit her for the Easter holiday, he said. If they had left earlier, he always thought, perhaps she would still be alive.

"You always have second thoughts, 'What would have happened if,' " he said. "You don't ever heal. You just go on."

Krajcir, an Allentown, Pa., native who has been in prison in his home state and Illinois since 1983, faces 20 years to life in prison if convicted of Sheppard's murder, said Jackson County State's Atty. Michael Wepsiec. He said it was premature to talk about whether the office would seek the death penalty.

At the time of his eldest daughter's death, Bernie Sheppard told the Tribune he did not care "how much effort, money, time or heartache" it would take to arrest, convict and jail her killer. After police initially issued a statement saying "this incident does not indicate foul play," Sheppard's family had flown her body to Chicago for an autopsy by then Cook County Medical Examiner Robert Stein.

Stein found Deborah Sheppard was strangled and suffered blows to the head, and determined the death a homicide.

Illinois and Pennsylvania records show Krajcir enlisted in the Navy in February 1962 and was stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. He was 18-year-old cook when he was arrested for the rape and attempted murder of a Lake County woman.

Krajcir admitted to attacking or trying to attack 16 other women in Illinois and the burglaries of seven homes in Pennsylvania before he joined the Navy. He was sentenced to 25 to 50 years in prison in 1963.

His release date could not be determined, but according to Illinois Department of Corrections records, he was imprisoned on another rape charge in 1972. Again, a release date could not be determined.

In 1979, Krajcir was jailed in Illinois and deemed a "sexually dangerous person." He was paroled two years later over the objections of the Jackson County prosecutor's office. Police say he murdered Deborah Sheppard shortly after being released, before returning to Pennsylvania. At the time of the slaying, Krajcir was taking justice administration classes at SIU.

In July 1982, Allentown police said Krajcir sexually assaulted three women in two incidents. Krajcir spent five years in prison for the assaults and an unsuccessful attempt to escape the Lehigh County Prison with another inmate on May 1, 1983. During his August 1983 sentencing, a Lehigh County judge ordered that Krajcir needed continued psychiatric care. In 1988 he was transferred back to Illinois for violating parole, and has been in custody ever since.
What are the facts? Ugly cases make for ugly opinions. Facts place people at scenes and clear people from having been involved. DNA tests give us facts.

I'm always stunned when I read a DA or state opposes DNA tests because the time for appeals has elapsed, or wants to destroy trial evidence once the appeals are expired.

We don't know what technologies will be invented which give us facts, but if the evidence to test is destroyed, no technology can test what isn't there anymore. Anyone with a genuine commitment to the facts would want to know what truly happened, regardless of who is set free. They'd have a commitment to the facts.

DNA is a test which provides facts. Facts are used by judges and juries to free and convict. Good. People should be convicted on true facts and freed on true facts.

Today, based on DNA evidence after twenty-five years, a family finally starts putting their daughter to rest.

Hurray for facts. And cops who care about getting them right.