One DNA test of evidence from the infamous Columbus Stocking Stranglings matched convicted strangler Carlton Gary, while another test excluded him in one of the three cases in which he was convicted, attorneys said in dueling news conferences Monday.
District Attorney Julia Slater said tests matched Gary’s DNA profile to evidence collected in the death of Jean Dimenstein. Defense attorney Jack Martin said tests on evidence in the death of Martha Thurmond proved Gary could not have been the man who raped and killed her.
Gary was convicted of killing Thurmond but was not convicted in the Dimenstein case, though investigators insisted a single serial killer committed all seven stranglings. During Gary’s trial, prosecutors used evidence from other homicides to show a pattern of criminal conduct.
“I will say that we continue to believe that Carlton Gary committed all of the murders, rapes and burglaries,” Slater said.Martin said the results in the Thurmond case show Gary should get a new trial. The evidence at least shows Gary should not be executed, he said.
“You surely wouldn’t want to send somebody to be executed when there’s that much doubt in this case,” he said. “At the very minimum, a new sentencing is required.”
He will file a motion for a new trial next week, he said.
Dimenstein, 71, was found sexually assaulted, beaten and strangled with a stocking in her 3027 21st St. home on Sept. 24, 1977. The killer had entered her home by removing a carport door leading to her kitchen. Thurmond, 69, was found beaten, raped and strangled Oct. 25, 1977, in her 2614 Marion St. home. Thurmond’s killer disassembled an improperly installed deadbolt lock to get inside.
Arrested in 1984, Gary was convicted two years later in three of the stranglings that occurred in 1977 and ’78. At the time of his trial, DNA testing was not yet used in U.S. courts. Such testing since has been employed to review convictions and to revive cases that remain unsolved.
Gary was hours away from lethal injection Dec. 16, 2009, when the Georgia Supreme Court issued a last-minute stay and ordered a Muscogee Superior Court judge to hold a hearing on DNA testing. Slater and Martin in February agreed to test four items of evidence, two of which came from the Thurmond slaying. After an initial objection, Gary verbally assented to the testing during a hearing in March.
Authorities at first thought the tests would be done in a month, but the time dragged on through the summer and fall.Semen found on Thurmond’s body was tested at a Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab, and yielded two DNA profiles, one the victim’s. The second profile clearly belonged to someone other than Gary, Martin said.
“It was an absolute exclusion,” he said. “There’s no way it’s him.”
The evidence contained sperm, which is durable enough to retain DNA for decades.
Slater said the Dimenstein match proved Gary was the strangler, so he no longer could claim he was being “framed” for the killings. She did not think authorities would conduct any further testing, but they would investigate whether test results from the Thurmond evidence may have come from degradation of the samples or from tainting while the evidence was being handled, she said.
Martin countered that the Thurmond tests yielded definite DNA profiles, and the only way the male profile could have been tainted was with another man’s sperm.
Greg Hampikian, a DNA expert at Boise State University and a consultant for the defense, said the semen sample from Thurmond’s body was “remarkably well preserved.” Like Martin he said it yielded a definite male profile, and ruled out Gary as the source.
“This is a clear exclusion,” he said.
Hampikian said the semen from the Thurmond case could have come from a consensual male partner, but no evidence indicates the victim had one. He said he did not thoroughly examine the Dimenstein evidence, but noted it appeared consistent with Gary’s profile.
“He’s not excluded,” Hampikian said.
Both Martin and Hampikian said the Thurmond test results show the rapist, if still alive, may yet be at large. “It changes everything for the family of this victim,” Hampikian said.
The evidence was on glass slides upon which apparent semen samples were smeared as police investigated the slayings of Dimenstein and Thurmond, and of Kathleen Woodruff, 74, of 1811 Buena Vista Road, on Dec. 28, 1977. CarGary was convicted also of murdering Woodruff, and of strangling Florence Scheible, 89, of 1941 Dimon St., on Oct. 21, 1977. During a news conference Monday, Slater said tests on the Woodruff evidence were inconclusive. Martin said neither the GBI nor the Bode Technology Group in Virginia could draw a complete DNA profile from that evidence. Bode was designated as a backup lab should the GBI tests prove inconclusive. Only evidence from the Woodruff slaying was sent to Bode, Martin said.Martin said prosecutors did not think evidence from the Scheible case was worth testing.
Slater said a court “status conference” has been set for Dec. 20 to determine how to proceed further in the case, and she has appointed former Senior Assistant Georgia Attorney General Susan Boleyn as a special prosecutor to handle it.
The other stranglings for which Gary was not tried were the slayings of Ferne Jackson, 60, of 2505 17th St., on Sept. 15, 1977; Mildred Borom, 78, of 1612 Forest Ave., on Feb. 12, 1978; and Janet Cofer, 61, of 3783 Steam Mill Road, on April 20, 1978.