DNA tests cast doubt on ‘Stocking Strangler' case

posted Dec 13, 2010, 5:11 PM by Kathryn Hamoudah   [ updated Aug 31, 2012, 8:29 AM by GFADP staff ]

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

5:47 p.m. Monday, December 13, 2010

DNA tests cast doubt Monday on one of the most infamous serial killer cases in Georgia history.

The tests, conducted by the GBI, indicate that Carlton Gary, the so-called Columbus "Stocking Strangler," did not rape one of three elderly women he was convicted of killing and instead show another man was involved in the crime.

A separate DNA test, however, matched Gary to another woman who was raped and killed in Columbus in 1977. At trial, prosecutors presented evidence to show that Gary carried out this killing as evidence he committed similar crimes, but they did not ask jurors to convict him of it.

The DNA tests were conducted after the Georgia Supreme Court halted Gary's execution just four hours before he was to be put to death in December 2009. The court ordered a judge to consider the DNA evidence, which was not available at the time of Gary's 1984 trial.

Gary sits on death row for raping and killing three women. In all, nine women between the ages of 55 and 89 were sexually assaulted in their homes in Columbus' historic Wynnton neighborhood during an eight-month period in 1977 and 1978. Seven of the women were killed by a man who left stockings around their necks as his calling card.

Gary has long contended that another man committed the crimes, and his lawyers have challenged much of the state's evidence during Gary's appeals. One the lawyers, Jack Martin, said Monday he will soon file a motion for a new trial, contending there are now "grave doubts" concerning the prosecution's case.

But Muscogee County District Attorney Julia Slater said her office is not conceding anything.

"Absolutely, we'd like to see the court's [death] sentence against Mr. Gary carried out," she said.

Because Gary is now linked through his own DNA to one of the killings, he "will no longer be able to say that he was framed, that he was not involved in these murders or even that he just watched."

In February, Slater and Gary's attorneys agreed to allow DNA tests of four semen samples taken from three women -- two of whom Gary was convicted of killing and another he was accused of killing.

A DNA test of a semen sample taken from Martha Thurmond, 69, a schoolteacher whose body was found Oct. 25, 1977, does not match Gary, Slater said. Thurmond was sexually assaulted, beaten and strangled with a stocking. Gary was convicted of killing Thurmond and two other women: Kathleen Woodruff, 74, and Florence Schieble, 89. DNA tests of a sample taken from Woodruff were inconclusive. No DNA test was conducted in the case involving Schieble, because prosecutors considered the sample unreliable.

At trial, prosecutors introduced evidence of similar crimes to convince jurors that Gary was a serial rapist and killer. One of these victims, Jean Dimenstein, was raped and strangled with a stocking in her home on Sept. 24, 1977.

A DNA test of a semen sample taken from Dimenstein matches Gary to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty, Slater said.

Martin said he was not surprised when he learned of the DNA results involving Thurmond's case.

"The physical evidence found at the Thurmond crime scene never matched Gary, but for years the courts have not listened," Martin said. "We now know for a scientific fact from DNA tests not available at the time of his trial that Mr. Gary did not commit the Thurmond murder. ... It is obvious he deserves a new trial and the real perpetrator of the Thurmond murder needs to be found and brought to justice."

Martin said if prosecutors want to try Gary for Dimenstein's murder, that is their prerogative.

In February, after Slater agreed to the tests, she said in an interview, "I'm not afraid of the results."

On Monday, she called the Thurmond results "unexpected" and said her office will investigate to see whether degradation and contamination contributed to the mismatch.

Martin strongly disputed any notion that the Thurmond sample was somehow tainted, saying that both the GBI and his own DNA expert expressed confidence that the results were reliable. "This is the same sort of prosecutorial dishonesty that has accompanied this case from the very beginning," he said.

She also said she did not believe the DNA test exonerates Gary of the Thurmond murder.

When asked whether she was looking for another suspect in the Thurmond killing, Slater replied, "At this point, I'm focusing only on Carlton Gary."

During the trial, prosecutors told jurors that Gary's fingerprints placed him at the homes of three of the victims and one of the surviving victims identified him as her attacker. There also was evidence that the killer had O-positive blood, the same as Gary's.

Police testified that Gary admitted to them that he was present during the attacks, but insisted that the rapes and murders were committed by a childhood friend, Malvin Crittenden. Prosecutors have said they found no evidence linking Crittenden to the crimes.

Prosecutors also noted Gary pleaded guilty in 1970 to robbing an 85-year-old woman who was raped and strangled in Albany, N.Y. Gary told police a friend of his had committed that killing.

Gary's lawyers have called the eyewitness testimony unbelievable. The woman identified Gary seven years after her attack when she saw him on television; defense lawyers said that a sketch of the attacker based on the woman's descriptions did not look like Gary. The attorneys also challenged the fingerprints through an affidavit filed by a former supervisor of the FBI's fingerprint section who examined the evidence and called the identifications "borderline."