Jesse: A Case Study in Sexual Assault - Needs Tags Columns -

Jesse: A Case Study in Sexual Assault

Line of Duty



Trinka Porrata | Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The young woman moved confidently through the early morning chill, oblivious to the traffic and other people around her, caught up in thoughts of her upcoming math test. Life was just fine--her boyfriend, her job and school, her conservative existence in a religious organization's dormitory for young ladies.

Suddenly the tall, thin black man leaped from his parked car, grabbed her, and quickly forced her inside. She wrestled, screamed, and pounded the horn. Assistance came in the form of a hospital security guard who challenged the thin man, withstood his threats of karate violence, and wrote down the license number as the assailant sped away.

It was all over so quickly. A scary interruption in her life. A bit of a delay while making a police report, an explanation for being late to school, and life was pretty much back to normal.

As police reports go, it wasn't much. Attempted kidnap, briefly and casually written. But it did contain that precious license number that for once didn't belong to a stolen car, long since abandoned.

Forget it, my partner insisted. It was nothing. The District Attorney's Office wouldn't be interested. The most I could get was a misdemeanor battery charge from the city attorney, he said.

I would remain on loan from uniformed patrol to the rape investigation team only a few more weeks and, heaven knows, we had two major rapists working our area and (even more important to the bureaucracy) tons of overdue follow-up reports to be made for an upcoming audit.

But something about this "nothing" attempted kidnap case captured me, making it my obsession during my brief investigative loan. The car was registered to a man named Jesse. It would take just a few moments. Run the name for driver's license information; run the name and birth date for a criminal record. After all, criminals do sometimes caper in their own cars.

Bingo. Numerous prior arrests for kidnap and rape or attempted rape, with a few car thefts, and more, thrown in along the way. There was a gap of over five years, then one arrest for assault and another year silent on his record. I ordered a booking photo from his last arrest and began to work frantically on my pile of other cases while I waited for it to arrive. But I couldn't wait. I stumbled through the delays and transfers calling the various police departments involved in his past, trying to locate crime reports, now six years old, hard to find and even harder to read from the blurred copies.

Each case was virtually identical. Each time he had accosted the girl on the sidewalk or parking lot, and each time he had dragged her into a car--either his or hers.

As rapists go, he wasn't highly successful. Half of his victims had been spared the ultimate indignity. Whatever the problems were that drove him to rape also prevented him from leaping confidently into it.

When his photograph arrived, I stared long and hard at his odd, light eyes, the expression on his face.

Great care is required in preparing a photo lineup of six pictures to show a victim so that it will pass the court's test of fairness. Each subject has to approximate the victim's description so that the possible suspect won't stand out like a sore thumb.

My victim looked at it only two seconds, pointed to Jesse, andshuddered. "His eyes. I can't forget those awful eyes." My security guard witness studied the photos, giving proper respect to each, and stated emphatically, "There's no doubt about it; that's him. I couldn't forget those eyes."

Jesse had been imprisoned for the various assaults and thefts in one trial with all pending cases combined. He had done more than five years in prison, had been paroled, and survived only a month before threatening his wife with a shotgun and getting thrown back in for a year's parole violation. He had been paroled again, just seven days before the assault on my victim. He was now living with his wife and infant son (the product of his one month of freedom the year before) in an adjacent division.

Armed with a special arrest warrant, allowing me to arrest him in his own home, we approached the house.

The car was there and a tow truck was ready to take it away for us. I also had a warrant to seize it and search every inch of it. His description and car matched another kidnap-rape so perfectly that I was sure we had him on that one, too. But that, unfortunately, would result in nothing decisive. Her fractured jaw wired shut, this victim would describe his car but with two details significantly different. And she would pick suspects from the photo lineup and live lineup at the county jail most similar in every detail to Jesse, without really looking at or commenting on him.

That case fell by the wayside later, leaving me with the personal conviction, which I never quite gave up, that she was too terrified to identify him.

The man with the eyes of violence opened the door at my knock. The smile faded instantly and the new velour bathrobe must have suddenly become overly warm as his forehead broke into a sweat. I dangled the warrant in his face and gave him the good news. He asked only that he be allowed to dress. My male partners accompanied him upstairs, leaving me alone with his disbelieving wife.

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