On Nov. 2, 1991, around 4:15 a.m., a 19-year-old woman had just arrived home at the Shenandoah Crossing Apartments in Chantilly when two men grabbed her. They forced her back into her car, drove her to an unknown location and raped her.
She reported the crime to police and DNA evidence was obtained from her person. However, police had no suspects and the case went cold. But it heated up again after a positive DNA match in February 2005 led to an arrest. And now, 14 1/2 years after the crime, justice has finally been served.
LAST WEDNESDAY, May 3, in Fairfax County Circuit Court, a jury of four men and eight women found Donald Harmon Roper, 40, of Fredericksburg, guilty of rape, abduction with intent to defile, robbery and two counts of forcible sodomy.
The jurors then recommended he be sentenced to 120 years in prison. Co-defendant Troy D. Holland, 38, of West Virginia, is slated to stand trial in August.
Roper's case played out in court over three days last week. He lived at Shenandoah Crossing at the time of the incident, with his pregnant wife and young daughter, and claimed he met the victim there at a party. He said they began making out, "one thing led to another" and they had consensual sex in an enclosed area on the property.
But the victim's version was far different, and the evidence and a witness bore out her words. She's now married, is a mother of two and lives in Maine. But in November 1991, she'd lived in Chantilly just 2 1/2 weeks and didn't know many people here.
She was training as a United Airlines reservation agent at the call center in Sterling. After her shift ended around midnight, she joined a few friends for a casual get-together at a nearby apartment. Then she drove her 1986 Nissan Sentra home to Chantilly.
"There were no parking spaces near my apartment, so I parked in a nearby lot," she said. "Immediately after getting out of my vehicle, when I turned around, there were two men approaching me. They had shiny material on their faces and rubber gloves on their hands. I attempted to scream, and one man grabbed me, put his hand on my mouth and told me to be quiet."
When she asked what they wanted with her, "They said they wanted my car," said the woman. "I told them to take it. I tried to scream but, again, they put a hand over my mouth. They tried to get me into the car. I fought back as much as I could and screamed again and banged my shins on the car."
In response, she said, "They told me it wasn't nice to scream and I should cooperate. The taller one, in the driver's seat, said, 'Make her shut up; if not, get the knife.' The shorter individual was in the back seat with me." Police believe Holland was the taller man, and Holland, the shorter.
The victim said they started traveling, took a right turn on Route 50 and drove for five to 10 minutes. "The shorter individual told the driver where to stop," she said. "I told them I felt sick, so they told me I could get sick on the floor. Once they stopped, the shorter individual told me to disrobe — take off all my clothes." She complied, shedding her white silk blouse, jeans, belt and shoes.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Ian Rodway showed her a photo of herself wearing that outfit, and tears came to her eyes as she identified herself as the person in the picture. She said she resisted disrobing because "I knew what was going to happen."
WHEN RODWAY asked her why she obeyed the men, she answered, "I was terrified. Up until that point, I thought I was going to be killed. Rape had never entered my mind. I [complied] because I thought I'd be hurt less."
As the sexual assault by the shorter man began, said the woman, "I began crying and said I didn't want to do it. Then ... I was forced to." She said the taller man was outside the car, but then came inside and traded places with the shorter man. According to the victim, the taller man was unsuccessful in his attempts to have sexual relations with her, but left semen on her blouse. Then, she said, the shorter man raped her again.
"After he was done, he told me to get dressed," she said. "I did, as fast as I could. We drove about five minutes, to Chantilly High [next to Shenandoah Crossing]." She said he then rummaged through her purse, taking some film, her wallet, $10, her ATM card, checkbook and I.D."
She said he'd put a ballcap over her eyes so she couldn't see but, when they took off their gloves and masks, "I heard the snapping of gloves against skin. They told me I could get up after they left the car, and they fled toward the wooded area."
She waited in the car a few minutes "because I was afraid to come out. I didn't know what they were going to do. I opened up the car door from the backseat. I realized I was near my apartment and Chantilly High. I ran into the road and tried to flag down a small truck. I told the driver I'd been raped and needed help."
Then, said the victim, he escorted her to her apartment where she told the same thing to her roommate and his girlfriend. They called 911 and she called her parents. "The police came," she said. "I wanted to take a shower, but they wouldn't let me because they wanted to preserve evidence."
A sexual-assault exam was performed on the victim at Inova Fairfax Hospital. A physical-evidence recovery kit (PERK) was created,
containing DNA samples taken from her. Police Det. R. J. Cline submitted this evidence, plus the woman's clothing, for testing at the Division of Forensic Science Northern Laboratory in Fairfax.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Brian O'Connor, she said she never saw her assailants' faces. And he told the court that no hairs or fingerprints from them had been found.
Then Rodway asked if her car sustained any damage, and she said the front passenger seat was broken from one of the men forcing it so far forward. She also said there was a "dent on the dash from where it hit." And when he asked if she'd ever "mixed and mingled" with any of her Shenandoah Crossing neighbors, she said no.
TAKING THE stand next was Christopher Larson, who now lives in Oklahoma. In November 1991, however, he lived in this area with his ex-wife and was an Army specialist stationed with the "Old Guard" at Fort Myer. On Nov. 2, around 5 a.m., he was driving his truck near Shenandoah Crossing, on his way to go squirrel hunting with a staff sergeant.
"As I was leaving, a young lady came out and flagged me down," said Larson. "She was very distraught and upset." He then identified a photo of the victim as that woman.
"I stopped my pickup, rolled down my window and asked her what I could do," he said. "She was very emotional and said she'd just been raped. Her clothes looked 'misheaved' — like she'd just them on. I asked her where she lived and, after she told me, I took her to her apartment."
Barbara Harrell Patt, the nurse who examined the victim, said her genital area was not injured, but "there were abrasions on her lower leg, right arm and lower jaw." And police Sgt. J.D. Welsh, who looked for evidence in her car, said he found five pieces of rubber glove there.
Meanwhile, years passed without an arrest until Roper was convicted of a felony in another jurisdiction and a sample of his DNA was entered into the Virginia DNA Data Bank. On Aug. 12, 2004, Det. Mark Pfeiffer submitted the 1991 PERK kit, plus the victim's blouse, to the state lab for testing.
And in a Feb. 24, 2005 certificate of analysis, forensic scientist Karen Ambrozy wrote that the DNA profile obtained from this evidence was consistent with Roper's. In May 2005, police obtained another sample of Roper's DNA for additional testing. He was then arrested and indicted.
In court, Ambrozy testified that Roper's DNA profile was so rare that the chances of the DNA found on the victim belonging to anyone else but him were "one in greater than the population of the world — 6 billion." The exact number, she said, would be "one in 470 quintillion," and a quintillion has 18 zeros.
After deliberating, the jury found Roper guilty on all charges and recommended a prison sentence amounting to 120 years — 60 for rape; 30, abduction; 20, oral sodomy; five, anal sodomy; and five, robbery. Sentencing is set for Aug. 4.