Late on the night of March 5, 1988, a 10-year-old girl had fallen asleep on the couch of her Elkhart home, where she had been watching television.
Her parents were out for the evening, and her older brother had gone to bed.
The girl would later tell police that she woke to the sound of a loud crash: A stranger had broken through the front door, covered the girl’s head and took her to his waiting car. He drove her into a wooded area and raped her. He returned her to her home, where her parents found her.
Elkhart County sheriff’s detectives found biological evidence, but no one was charged, and the case grew cold.
In 2011, the now-grown victim contacted the sheriff’s department about her case. According to the Elkhart County prosecutor’s office, original DNA samples from that night were still at the Indiana State Police lab.
Last fall, prosecutors were notified that a match to the submitted samples had been found in the national FBI DNA database of felons called CODIS (for Combined DNA Index System).
In February, they learned the DNA was a scientific match for 51-year-old Robert Quinn, who was serving time in an Indiana prison on a pa-role violation charge from a 2005 Elkhart County child molestation. Department of Correction records say Quinn also served time for child molesting in 2001 and 1993.
Quinn was charged in March with the 1988 rape, child molesting and criminal confinement.
Catching repeat offenders
Similar tales are becoming more frequent, thanks to advances in collecting, storing and comparing DNA.
“It’s been helpful as a crime-fighting tool, because it’s absolutely a fact that a minority of criminals are responsible for the majority of crimes,” Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill says of the system that can link known felons with other crimes. The fact the ISP lab still had those samples is “impressive, luck — what-ever, I’ll take it.”
This case had not been on the radar at all.
“You have to applaud (the victim) to stick with it,” Hill said. “That had to be a very traumatic experience for her, and we’re hopeful we’ll be able to close this chapter for her.”
But Hill and St. Joseph County Prosecutor Michael Dvorak caution that a match is only a first step; a criminal case still requires more evidence than simply a match.
Especially in a decades-old crime, a jury must be convinced that a suspect was in the area then, and that sex wasn’t consensual.
For example, in three St. Joseph County cases instigated by CODIS matches, two have already been tried, with mixed results:
- A man was charged in 2008 with rape in an incident that happened in 2003, but the jury acquitted him.
- Robert Towles Jr. was charged in January 2011 with following a woman home from a local bar, forcibly raping her and stealing her car in November 2001. When the case went to trial in June 2012, the jury hung. So the man pleaded guilty instead to an added count of auto theft, a Class D felony.
- Prosecutors in May this year charged Raymond Ebel with rape and burglary in a 1987 incident and rape, criminal deviate conduct and burglary for a 1988 incident with a different stranger/victim. His case has yet to be resolved.
Prosecutors have a limited time to bring charges once they’re notified of a match, Dvorak points out, and they must research what laws were in effect at the time of the incidents.
Right now in Indiana, DNA is taken and sent to the FBI database only from con-victed felons. But in 27 states — including neighboring Michigan, Illinois and Ohio — oral swabs of DNA are taken from all who are arrested.
Indiana lawmakers, who have turned down such legislation in recent years, were watching for a controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling in May that upheld the constitutionality of taking DNA from arrestees.