Man Convicted Of '96 Rape After Phila. Reopened Case The Girl, Then 7, Was Among Many Whose Cases Were Shelved By Police. Timoney Is To Detail Rape-squad Changes Today.

Posted: December 12, 2000

A Philadelphia jury yesterday convicted an auto mechanic of raping a 7-year-old girl in Fairmount Park nearly five years ago - the latest successful prosecution to grow out of a police decision to reopen 2,000 cases wrongly mothballed by investigators.

The verdict, in Common Pleas Court, came as City Council was preparing for a hearing today at which Police Commissioner John F. Timoney is to give an update on his efforts to overhaul the rape squad.

Timoney initiated the reforms in response to a series of Inquirer articles last year that detailed the unit's two-decade-long pattern of shelving rape and sexual-assault complaints.

One article focused on Jasper Washington, 33, of North Philadelphia, the man convicted yesterday of raping the 7-year-old. Police initially wrote off that case as merely a "lost child" incident and never interviewed him or sought to test his DNA. When a DNA test was finally conducted this year, the exam showed that he had raped the girl.

Timoney, in his last report on the unit, told Council in June that the rape squad had previously treated some victims "improperly, probably unprofessionally, and probably in a god-awful manner." He said that had changed.

This year, police have dramatically increased rape arrests, nabbing nearly 700 rape suspects - twice the figure of just two years ago.

At the same time, the number of reported rapes has been climbing dramatically. Preliminary figures show 1,126 rapes so far this year - compared with 650 for all of 1997.

Police and women's advocates say the increase does not reflect an actual boom in crime. They say, rather, that police have been more willing to take complaints seriously and to count them in the city's crime tally.

The jury deliberated less than two hours before convicting Washington, a hulking man who weighs 285 pounds, of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and other charges for raping the girl in January 1996.

Judge Amanda Cooperman is scheduled to sentence Washington on Jan. 24. He faces up to 30 years in prison.

During the weeklong trial, Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Jobes told the jury that DNA tests proved that "no other person on this planet, dead or alive, except Jasper Washington" could have committed the rape.

The original police investigation was closed in February 1996 but reopened on Dec. 20, 1999 - one day after The Inquirer published an article detailing how police had mishandled the case. The new investigation led to Washington's arrest in March.

Timoney last year created a special detail of detectives to review more than 2,000 complaints of rape and sexual assault that had been shelved by the unit going back to 1995. He limited the review to five years because of the statute of limitations for the prosecution of rape cases.

With many victims, witnesses and suspects difficult to locate, and many victims refusing to cooperate, the effort has so far resulted in about 50 arrests and at least four convictions.

In the Washington case, the victim, now 12 years old and in the seventh grade, took the stand and pointed out Washington when asked: "Who did this to you?"

"Mr. Jasper," she said.

The girl looked at the floor and wiped away tears as she testified. She said she knew Washington because he had once dated her aunt.

The girl told the jury that on Jan. 12, 1996, she had been playing in the snow outside her baby-sitter's house when Washington grabbed her and shoved her into his station wagon. He then drove her to the west side of Fairmount Park, near a playground she recalled having visited previously with her grandmother.

There, Washington raped her.

"He got on top of me," she said. "I was crying and screamed."

She described details of Washington's car, saying that it was "dirty."

After the rape, Washington pushed her out of the car and warned her: "Don't tell, or I'll shoot you."

The girl fled from the park and was helped by a neighborhood resident who called police. But her problems were only beginning.

"You would think the sad part of the tale was over. It was not," prosecutor Jobes told the jury.

Jobes detailed the series of police errors that allowed Washington to stay on the street for five years.

The first officer on the scene ignored the child's account of the rape. The officer, Sheila Pressley, listed the case as an "investigation of person," the police classification for a service call, not a crime.

Pressley drove the victim to her mother's house but, when no one was home, left her with a neighbor. Pressley was eventually suspended from her job for six days.

The child's mother learned of the rape and demanded a police investigation. Sex-crimes investigator Roscoe Cofield was assigned, but he mishandled the case, Jobes said.

Though the girl and her mother repeatedly told police that Washington committed the rape, Cofield never interviewed him. Cofield left a business card with Washington's family, but dropped the case when Washington didn't call him back.

It stayed in that limbo until The Inquirer's stories.

Washington's lawyer, Terrence McCallum, called only one defense witness, Cofield, who said in his 1996 investigative report that the girl had failed to identify her attacker when shown Washington's mug shot.

Cofield, who retired in 1998, took the stand only briefly. He testified that he recalled few details of the case.

Mark Fazlollah's e-mail address is mfazlollah@phillynews.com

|
|
|
|
|