(Hat tip to Pat)
In 2007, I stood by the mailbox of the house I once briefly rented in Sarasota, Florida, contemplating the short distance between my house and the house where my rapist grew up, less than a mile, and a strikingly direct path over a well-worn shortcut across the train tracks.
I had just spent several months and many hundreds of dollars to get copies of the police investigation reports for my rape and some of the court records of the man who was accused of, but never prosecuted for the crime. Every time he was sent away on another sex crime conviction, the police closed all the other rape cases they attributed to him. In 1987 he was tried for one sexual assault, and at least six other cases were shelved, including mine.
Such was the economy of justice in 1987: rapes were not deemed important enough to expend the court resources to try every known defendant for every crime. This attitude arose not from the police but from the legal establishment and, by extension, the public. It was an accepted status quo, not just in Sarasota, but everywhere.
To behave as if each rape victim actually deserved justice and every woman deserved to be safe from offenders was not anybody’s priority for spending money in 1987. The same can still be said today, though attitudes have spottily improved. We’ve never spent enough money to thoroughly investigate and prosecute more than a fraction of all crimes.
Criminals know this, though the public remains largely oblivious.
I remember being astonished when the police told me the D.A. would not be prosecuting my case, even though there was evidence and a rape kit. A few months later, the first rape case in the United States using DNA evidence would be won in Orlando, a mere hundred miles and three jurisdictions away. There, the D.A. had decided to be aggressive and use this new technology already in use in Britain, and he succeeded. But more than a decade would pass before DNA evidence was even routinely collected and databased in most states.
A lot of people slipped through the cracks unnecessarily during that decade, including my rapist. Sentenced to 15 years for his 1997 crime, he walked out of prison seven years later, the beneficiary of both the state’s unwillingness to fully fund prisons and activists’ efforts to get every convict back onto the streets as quickly as possible. He immediately returned to raping elderly women, his preferred victims, and wasn’t back in prison until 1998. At least the prisoner activists, and the defense bar, were happy.
Before the statute of limitations ran out on my case, I had offered to return to Florida to testify against my rapist. to try to keep him behind bars for a longer period of time. The state had the ability to test the DNA in my rape kit. I hired a private detective and reached out to the then-current Sarasota County D.A. They practically laughed at me for having the audacity to suggest such a thing and said they didn’t have the money to go back and try old cases. So Henry Malone walked, and more elderly women were raped.
Have things changed, even now? Yes and no. Two serial rape cases in the news show both progress and stagnation.
The stagnation is in DeKalb County, Georgia, the eastern part of metro Atlanta. I know the area well: I worked there and lived nearby for much of two decades. A serial rapist is on a real tear in DeKalb, raping at least three women since October and possibly three more since the last week of September. Police officials told reporters that they had requested rush DNA tests on the three unknown cases from the state lab and were waiting for results. But when CBS News Atlanta went to the state lab to find out why the tests weren’t done yet, the head of the DNA testing unit told reporters that no such request had been made.
I’m generally sympathetic to the police — less so to police brass, who sometimes rise through the ranks due to politics, not professionalism (there are some great precinct sergeants in Dekalb County, though). But now that the mistake has been made, the executive command ought to be out in front, showing the public that they are serious about doing everything they can do, as quickly as they can do it, to catch this rapist. Six, or even three rapes in a few months is escalating behavior, and he threatens his victims with a gun.
Ironically, the police caught several other fugitives while searching for this rapist. It’s all about resources: we live knee-deep in wanted felons and under-investigated suspects, and our elected officials pretend that this is a perfectly normal way to live.
Meanwhile, police in the Washington D.C. area are using the media to appeal to the public to help them find the “East Coast Rapist.” There should be more publicity. This rapist has been active for at least 12 years: DNA tests reveal a pattern of travel between the D.C. suburbs, Connecticut, and Rhode Island during that time.
So there is a chance that somebody else knows the identity of the rapist because of his changing locations. Profilers used to assume that serial rapists and serial killers were loners, but this, like so many other presumptions (ie. serial killers are usually white men, serial offenders pick only one type of victim) have been proven to be false.
The Washington Post has an interactive map listing the locations and dates of the East Coast rapist’s attacks in today’s paper:
The rapist may have been in prison for some other crime between 2002 and 2007, and even 2007 and 2009. You have to figure that officials in Washington D.C., Connecticut, and Rhode Island have already submitted DNA to the national database, so if he had ever been convicted of a sex crime, or even served time for some other felony in most states, his DNA would be on record somewhere.
But who knows? Maybe he was committing sex crimes in one of the many places where DNA samples don’t get processed properly, like Wisconsin and Michigan and California. Maybe he’s supposed to be behind bars but hasn’t been picked up yet because nobody is bothering to keep track of thousands of offenders who have absconded on bail, the situation in Philadelphia.
It’s all about resources. Twenty-two years after the first use of DNA in convicting a serial rapist, there should be no backlogs. Rape is too important. Thousands of offenders shouldn’t still be walking out of prison after skipping their DNA tests, through deceit or carelessness. Every one of these cases represents a denial of justice to someone.
Too bad criminal justice activists and law professors and university president-types don’t get all worked up when the person being denied justice is the victim, instead of the offender.
When I purchased the transcripts from some of Henry Malone’s many perambulations through the courts (and how nice that I had to pay, and pay a lot, for them), I was astonished to read the details of one hearing that was held at Malone’s behest because he demanded reimbursement for a fine related to his car, which had been impounded when he was arrested for sexual assault. The judge and the defense attorney seemed amused by his bizarre demand. I don’t find it so funny. Imagine what we paid for the judge to read that demand, for the lawyer to research the claim and represent Malone in court, for the court reporter, and the security guards, and everything else that went into assuring that Henry Malone would get to be heard in court over an inane and dismissible whim.
The same courthouse where I had been denied the chance to face Malone for raping me because nobody wanted to bother spending the money to try him for more than one rape. Criminals have rights the rest of us can’t dream of. It’s all about the resources, and every last dime goes to offenders; they get everything they want, whenever they want it, out of the courts, while their victims wait out in the cold.