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WATCHDOGS: How rape suspect IDed by DNA stayed free for years

Javariee Reed, 27, now charged with the sexual assault of a 15-year-old, mentally disabled girl in Robbins in 2007. | Illinois Department of Corrections photo

A rape suspect remained on the streets for years after being identified through DNA because a south suburban police department failed to act after being informed by the Illinois State Police there was a DNA match, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.

As a result of the botched handling of his case by the Robbins Police Department, the man remained free for years despite being linked to the rape of a mentally disabled 15-year-old girl, according to the records and interviews.

He was finally charged last year — after officials in the south suburb, citing Robbins’ precarious finances, called in the Cook County sheriff’s department to begin aiding the police in 2013.

“Robbins didn’t care,” says the victim’s grandmother, who asked that her name not be published to keep her granddaughter from being identified. “They didn’t get up and do their job. That’s what our tax money goes for?”

The man now accused of raping her granddaughter is Javariee Reed, a 27-year-old former Harvey resident with a criminal record that includes convictions for theft, illegal gun possession and burglary, court records show.

Reed is one of five people who have been charged with sex crimes in cases dating to 2006 since Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office was called in by Robbins officials in 2013 following the resignation of then-police Chief Johnny Holmes after the chief’s second drunken-driving arrest.

Sheriff’s officials found that evidence collected from 55 rapes dating back as far as 1986 was never submitted to the Illinois State Police for testing.

Another 121 rape kits — essential evidence in sexual assault cases — had been tested, with the results and evidence sent back to the Robbins police, but the department never did anything with them.

The Robbins police evidence room in a state of disarray in May 2013. | Robbins Police Department photo
The Robbins police evidence room in a state of disarray in May 2013. | Robbins Police Department photo

And the state police hadn’t done anything to track what was done with the notifications.

Asked why his agency doesn’t follow up with local police departments when it gets a DNA hit on a rape suspect, Master Sgt. Matthew Boerwinkle, a spokesman for the state police, says, “It is merely an investigative lead, the significance of which can only be determined by the local law enforcement agency and may require additional investigation on their part.”

Reed’s case was one of those in which the evidence was tested, and there was a DNA hit but no follow-up.

The case was no whodunit. The girl didn’t know the man who attacked her, but a rape kit was submitted to the state crime lab. It got a hit on Reed, whose DNA was already in a state police database after Cook County probation officers collected a sample in an unrelated case in 2007, sheriff’s officials say.

On Jan. 16, 2009, the crime lab sent a letter to the Robbins police, saying semen found on the girl’s underwear matched Reed’s DNA.

“The search detected an association to the following individual, Javariee Reed,” the state police said in the letter.

For confirmation, the letter said, the police should submit a blood sample from Reed or a swab taken from his mouth.

A letter like that, with a DNA hit, is “usually a high-five moment” for police investigating a case, says Cook County sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Jim Davis, who reinvestigated the attack on the teenager.

But the Robbins police did nothing more with the case, records and interviews show.

“This was a case where we couldn’t even find a police report,” Davis says. “All we had was [the victim] and her grandmother.”

Cook County sheriff’s Detective Judith Powe and Detective Sgt. James Davis. Frank Main / Sun-Times
Cook County sheriff’s Detective Judith Powe and Detective Sgt. James Davis. Frank Main / Sun-Times

Last year, after Davis and Detective Judith Powe were assigned to investigate the Robbins cases, they obtained a DNA sample from Reed — who was in jail, awaiting trial on a 2014 burglary charge — for confirmation linking him to the rape.

Reed, who’s now serving a five-year sentence for the burglary, was charged Aug. 4 with aggravated criminal sexual assault in the 2007 attack on the mentally disabled teenager. He’s awaiting trial.

“It took a long time, but the truth came out,” says the grandmother of the 15-year-old victim, who was from nearby Harvey. “He couldn’t hide.”

But the 64-year-old grandmother remains bitter toward the Robbins Police Department.

“Do your job. Keep track of what’s going on. Get on the streets, and do what you are supposed to do,” she says. “I have no idea why they didn’t do any of that.”

She remembers how frantic the family was when her granddaughter didn’t come home the night she was attacked, how they searched for her and called anyone they could think of who might know where she was, to no avail.

The next day, a man dropped the girl off at a gas station in Harvey, and she walked home. She told her family she’d been taken to a man’s home in Robbins and raped.

“It was devastating,” her grandmother says.

The girl and her family drove around Robbins, hoping to spot her attacker. When they came to a home just a block from the police station, she pointed him out sitting on the porch, her grandmother says.

The Robbins police interviewed the girl. And she went to a hospital, where a rape kit was collected.

But the grandmother says she never heard from the Robbins police or anyone else until sheriff’s detectives contacted the family last year with the news there was a DNA hit on a suspect and he was finally going to be charged.

“When those sheriffs finally got in touch with us, I knew everything would heal for me and my granddaughter,” says the grandmother.

The arrest came after Powe and Davis were assigned last May to look through Robbins’ dormant sexual assault cases. They set up a makeshift office at Oak Forest Hospital, put up a cardboard chart with names and photos of victims and began focusing on cases in which the statute of limitations hadn’t expired.

George Henderson, 78, who’s now charged with criminal sexual assault in connection with a 2006 rape in Robbins. | Cook County sheriff’s arrest mug shot
George Henderson, 78, who’s now charged with criminal sexual assault in connection with a 2006 rape in Robbins. | Cook County sheriff’s arrest mug shot

One of the other men who’s been charged as a result of their work is George Henderson, now 78. A 40-year-old woman told the Robbins police in 2007 that Henderson sexually assaulted her.

The Illinois State Police told Robbins detectives to ask Henderson to provide a DNA sample and to send it to the state crime lab to confirm he was the attacker. But the Robbins police never followed through, and the case languished, according to Davis.

The sheriff’s detectives took a swab from Henderson’s mouth and sent it to the Northeastern Illinois Regional Crime Laboratory, which confirmed a DNA match between the rape kit and Henderson on Aug. 18, 2015.

The following month, Henderson was charged with criminal sexual assault. Awaiting trial, he’s now in a nursing home because he is “infirm,” sheriff’s officials say.

Johnny Holmes III, 24. | DuPage County Sheriff’s Office mug shot
Johnny Holmes III, 24. | DuPage County Sheriff’s Office mug shot

In another case, sheriff’s officials say they were flabbergasted to learn the former police chief’s grandson, Johnny Holmes III, had been suspected in the sexual assault of a 9-year-old girl in 2007, but there was no DNA evidence, and Robbins detectives didn’t pursue criminal charges.

The grandson — who was 15 at the time of the attack — was finally charged last November, after sheriff’s detectives interviewed the victim and a nurse who had examined her.

Holmes had contacted a juvenile crimes detective in his department, and a rape kit was submitted to the state police.

Dart says the former police chief never should have even allowed his own department to handle the case and that he should have referred his grandson’s case to an outside police agency because of the conflict of interest.

“How could you not bring in the state police or the sheriff?” Dart says.

The former police chief says he did what he thought was right and never so much as asked his detectives about his grandson’s case.

“I did not want to be involved at all,” Holmes says. “I feared people would think I was trying to run interference. I didn’t know anything about the investigation.”

Holmes says the victim’s mother recently told him she asked Robbins detectives not to pursue charges against Johnny Holmes III “in the best interests of her daughter.”

But Johnny Holmes III ended up being charged Nov. 18 with aggravated criminal sexual abuse and aggravated kidnapping after sheriff’s detectives interviewed the victim, who they say told them she did, in fact, want to pursue criminal charges.

Holmes III, now 24, was already behind bars in DuPage County, accused in the armed robbery of a 7-Eleven in Carol Stream and also of taking part in other holdups in the west suburbs in 2014 and 2015.

Asked why his detectives didn’t follow up on requests by the state police for additional DNA evidence in other Robbins rape cases, the former police chief says he’s puzzled by that.

Former Robbins police Chief Johnny Holmes in 2011.
Former Robbins police Chief Johnny Holmes in 2011.

“I cannot imagine that we would intentionally not respond to a request by the state,” says Holmes, who was found guilty in February 2014 of his second DUI. “For the life of me, I can’t imagine an officer not following up.

“If there was correspondence, certainly there should have been a response,” he says.

But he also says it was a shock that sheriff’s detectives found 176 rape kits in the Robbins police evidence room that hadn’t been properly pursued: “I was surprised that there were so many kits on the shelves that were not followed up to close them out.”

Dart’s response: “For decades, the town of Robbins was not investigating rapes. People can’t believe something like that can happen. But it did.”

In addition to the five sexual assault cases in Robbins in which his office has now charged someone, Dart’s detectives have closed another dozen cases “exceptionally.” That means they believe they know who committed the crimes, but the suspect is dead, the victim wouldn’t testify, the statute of limitations — which varies, depending on the age of the victim and the circumstances — expired, or the suspect already had been charged with a lesser crime for the same offense.

One of the cases the sheriff’s office closed exceptionally involved the rapes of three women — in 2002 in Robbins, 2005 in Chicago and 2008 in Robbins. The state police tested the victims’ rape kits and found a DNA link to a single, unknown suspect in the three cases.

The sheriff’s detectives got a lead that the man was a tow-truck driver who operated in Robbins. They came up with a name: Daniel Thompson, 35. But Thompson was dead. He’d run naked into traffic on the Tri-State Tollway in Worth in 2011 and was killed.

The detectives obtained blood samples from Thompson’s autopsy, and DNA tests confirmed he was the attacker in all three rapes.

Thompson’s DNA hadn’t been in the state police database because he didn’t have a serious criminal record and never went to prison. The Illinois Department of Corrections takes DNA samples from every inmate, and they are entered into CODIS, the DNA database.

Though Thompson was never brought to justice, Davis says the news provided the women Thompson raped some peace of mind.

“We were happy to tell them, ‘The guy who brutally assaulted you is dead,’ ” Davis says.

In another case, a man was a suspect in the rape of a 12-year-old girl on Christmas Eve 2007, but Robbins detectives never gave the state police the approval to test semen found in the girl’s underwear. Powe tracked down the victim in Indiana.

“She was shocked we were looking at her case,” says Powe.

The sheriff’s office sent the eight-year-old rape kit to an independent crime lab and got a DNA hit on a suspect. Arrested a week ago in California, he is now charged with predatory criminal sexual assault and is awaiting extradition.

Sheriff Tom Dart. | Sun-Times file photo
Sheriff Tom Dart. | Brian Jackson / Sun-Times file photo

Dart says he feels a deep obligation to the women raped in Robbins whose cases weren’t properly pursued by the police.

“We should be apologizing to these victims over and over and asking for their forgiveness,” he says.

He also says he’s worried that it’s not just Robbins, that other police departments also are failing to follow up on DNA hits. Small, financially strapped departments tend to have a lot of turnover, he says, and detectives’ knowledge of cases goes with them when they leave.

“It would be stunning for me to learn these kinds of cases don’t happen in other towns,” the sheriff says.

As a backstop, he’s pursuing legislation to try to help keep cases like those in Robbins from falling through the cracks.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, would require the Illinois State Police to follow up on DNA hits to ensure that local police get back to the state crime lab with a second DNA sample for confirmation.

“A tracking mechanism by a responsible entity like the state police would prevent victims from being re-victimized because a town has problems with incompetence or turnover,” says Dart. “It is not much to ask in a small town for the chief to have a handle on these things.”