North Carolina police make arrest in sex assault cold cases
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Police have arrested a habitual offender in connection with two sexual assaults dating back to 1988, based on DNA evidence in rape kits that were left untested for decades.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police announced Wednesday that Zellie Edwards, 49, was arrested last Thursday without incident on two counts of second-degree rape and one count of second-degree kidnapping.
As a habitual felon, Edwards had to submit DNA for the FBI’s database, and it matched evidence provided by both young women years earlier, said Lt. Melanie Peacock, who works to solve old homicides and sexual assaults in the department’s cold-case unit.
Police say a 16-year-old girl had been walking home in September 1988 when a suspect followed her, pulled her into a vacant apartment and sexually assaulted her. In April 1994, a 17-year-old girl was walking home when a suspect began walking and talking with her before sexually assaulting her in a wooded area.
Both women have been told of the arrest and are grateful, Peacock said.
Peacock said DNA databases weren’t available when these two women were attacked.
Uniform standards for DNA testing and contributions to the FBI database weren’t mandated by Congress until 1994. A decade later, President George W. Bush approved more funding for state and local DNA labs. But it wasn’t until 2015 that Charlotte-Mecklenburg police adopted a policy of testing all rape kits, including a backlog that had grown over the years. That commitment requires resources, Peacock said.
Edwards had no sex crimes on his record and wasn’t a suspect until the tests funded with federal grant money matched his DNA, Peacock said.
Of 1,185 rape kits tested using these grants, 817 have been added to the database, Peacock said. This is only the second such case her department has brought forward for prosecution, but she said genetic matches have enabled police to make advances on several dozen more.