from New York Times, November 10, 2005
After 3 Decades,
Guilty Verdict in Rape Case, With Help From DNA
The guilty verdict against Fletcher A. Worrell, which a jury reached after deliberating less than two hours, closed a circle of justice for the victim, Kathleen Ham, now 58. Mr. Worrell's 1974 trial for the rape ended in a hung jury after his defense lawyer suggested that Ms. Ham was a prostitute and tried to cast doubt on whether she had been violently assaulted.
than three decades later - after Mr. Worrell was arrested last year after
trying to buy a gun in Georgia - Ms. Ham took the witness stand last week.
She retold the story of the assault, and of the insomnia and painful personal
isolation she had lived with virtually every moment since.
"I feel very, very vindicated," said Ms. Ham, with a smile of relief, at a news conference after the verdict. "It's taken a long time." Ms. Ham, now a lawyer living in California, has insisted that her name be published along with accounts of the trial, saying that she is not ashamed to have been a victim of rape.
Mr. Worrell, 59, who was tried the first time under the name Clarence Williams, was convicted in State Supreme Court in Manhattan of one count of first-degree rape and one count of robbery. Police found four dollar bills, which he had taken from Ms. Ham's purse, in his pocket when they first arrested him just a few minutes after the rape, at dawn on June 26, 1973.
Mr. Worrell faces 8 to 25 years in prison on each count, and is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 28. But this trial was just the beginning of multiple charges being brought against him. The authorities say he has been linked by DNA evidence to at least 21 other sexual assaults in Maryland and New Jersey, including a string of rapes in Montgomery County, Md., attributed to an attacker the police called the Silver Spring rapist.
Mr. Worrell jumped bail in 1975 before he could be tried again for Ms. Ham's rape, and left New York. He was arrested in Georgia in May 2004 after he tried to buy a shotgun, and a background check turned up the open warrant. But the biggest break in the case came when a DNA sample was recovered from the underpants that Ms. Ham wore on the day of the crime, which were found stuffed in the files in the Manhattan district attorney's cold case unit.
In her closing argument this morning, a prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Melissa Mourges, said that the DNA profile recovered from the underwear and Mr. Worrell's DNA profile were "identical in every way." Ms. Mourges told the jurors that Yankee Stadium could be filled with 50,000 people once a day for 54,000 years and there would not be another person who would match Mr. Worrell's profile.
Mr. Worrell's attack, Ms. Mourges said, was his attempt to impose his "total domination" and to "reduce Kathleen Ham to nothing but a piece of meat."
But, Ms. Mourges told the jurors, in the new trial, "it was her turn to hold the power - her turn, because DNA works."
Ms. Ham was not able to identify Mr. Worrell in the first trial because he pulled a sheet over her head during the attack, so she never saw his face.
In a 57-minute summation, Mr. Worrell's lawyer, Michael F. Rubin, argued that the DNA analysis done by the chief medical examiner's office was incomplete. Mr. Rubin said there might have been genetic mutations that could have disqualified his client.
The jurors were not convinced.
"Everybody agreed that the DNA evidence was so strong," said the jury foreman, Celestino Gregorio, 57, a sales manager for a pharmaceutical company. "That's why everybody voted guilty in this case."
Mr. Gregorio said that if Mr. Rubin had intended to challenge the science of the DNA testing, he should have called an expert witness rather than make the argument himself.
Mr. Rubin did not call any witnesses.
Mr. Worrell, in a brown cap and a bushy salt-and-pepper beard, sat impassively as the jury announced its verdict. He exhibited no emotion throughout the two and a half days of trial.
Several jurors said they were shocked when they learned, after the trial, that Mr. Worrell had been linked to other rapes. Robert L. Jones, 56, an illustrator who lives in Harlem, said, "It makes me feel better about taking him off the street and putting him away for rest of his life."
The verdict, and the role of DNA, prompted District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau of Manhattan to propose a change in state law to eliminate the statute of limitations for violent sexual assault and to elevate those crimes to the highest level of felony, a Class A felony.
"I felt such horrible guilt," Ms. Ham said of the first trial. "I knew a monster had been unleashed on the city." She, too, supported an end to the statute of limitations.
"DNA doesn't fade away," Ms. Ham said, "and DNA doesn't lie."
Anemona Hartocollis contributed reporting for this article.