A Lowell man was the unintended target of a growing trend …
A Lowell man was the unintended target of a growing trend …
A Grand Rapids pastor who was involved in a 2010 car loan scam …
Grand Rapids isn't the first city to find the Motorola …
The owners of a number of adult foster care facilities face a …
Residents got the chance to vent Thursday evening about the …
Little has been said about airport de-icer allowed to leave …
Clothing donation bins seem to be on every corner. But the City…
More than two-and-a-half years after federal agents raided …
Updated: Friday, 06 May 2011, 12:02 PM EDT
Published : Thursday, 05 May 2011, 11:08 PM EDT
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - It was 4 in the morning in May 1998. A 13-year-old girl was sleeping in her own bed, in a night shirt with teddy bears on it, in a comfortable home in Kentwood . Her parents were sleeping downstairs.
She woke to a stranger on top of her, with a utility knife against her neck.
The man raped her in the dark, then left, but not before threatening to return to kill her and rape her mom.
"For probably a good year, I slept in my parents' room, just on a mattress," the victim said.
And, for 11 years, she feared his return.
"It terrifies you. Words can't really describe how awful that feeling was, not knowing if he was gonna come back, and for me and my parents, we all lived in fear for years of how it was going to end."
All the while, she was forced to defend herself, against police who accused her of making it up. They believed the DNA on her and on her sheets -- the only real evidence -- was left by a boyfriend she was trying to protect.
"I remember sitting down with the detective and him telling me, 'You know, statistics say that 90-some percent of people that are raped are raped by somebody they know, so you have to be lying.'"
What they didn't know was that her attacker -- career burglar and four-time felon Mark Douglas Ball -- was hiding, in a Michigan state prison.
For the seven years he spent behind bars, on an unrelated home invasion, he closely guarded the key to solving the rape: His DNA.
And, police would argue, the prison was helping him.
"We could have solved her case many, many years ago," Michigan State Police Lt. Curt Schram told Target 8.
In a taped interview during his arrest two years ago -- obtained by Target 8 through the Freedom of Information Act -- Ball told a Kentwood detective how he had avoided getting his mouth swabbed for DNA when he got to prison in 2002 -- four years after the attack.
"They never swabbed you when you went in first?" the detective asked.
"No. I denied it."
"Oh, you did? Is that an optional thing?"
"It was for me."
Mark Ball finally surrendered his DNA just before he was released on parole in 2009.
That swab sent Ball back to prison for 40 to 100 years.
"If they were able to take DNA sooner, it would have closed it a lot faster," the victim told Target 8. "It would have saved a lot of heartache, a lot of sleepless nights for a lot of people, not just myself, for my family."
A Target 8 investigation has found that Ball's case is not unusual. As many as 6,000 inmates in Michigan 's state prisons have refused to provide DNA samples -- pitting police against the prison system.
"I think the majority are refusing because they have something to hide," Schram said.
"It's a public safety issue. You have individuals that are locked up that could be linked to additional crimes that we could help the victims families solve these crimes."
Police point to Rodrigo Hernandez, a burglar whose DNA was taken at his release in 2002 -- and who was then free for 6 months before it linked him to unsolved murders in Texas and Grand Rapids .
And Lamont Marshall, the suspected Heritage Hill serial killer from 30 years ago, who was already in prison for a vicious attack.
"Much to our surprise, we ran a file check on Lamont Marshall and he had no DNA on record," Schram said.
Police got a search warrant for Marshall 's DNA, in prison, which connected him to a drop of blood at one of those Heritage Hill murder scenes.
Then, there was the case of Nicholas Brasic, a suspected serial killer who died in prison in 2009, never giving up his DNA while serving life in prison for rape and murder.
Last summer, Kent Metro Cold Case detectives got a search warrant and dug him up from a prison cemetery. That exhumation cost police about $1,800. The tab for a DNA swab is about $7.
While his DNA didn't link him to the murders, the dig highlights another part of the problem. Police say as many as 281 inmates have died in prison since 2002 without providing DNA.
"We may never know" what secrets were buried with them, Schram said.
A COLD CASE AND DNA
DNA likely is the key to solving a quarter-century-old murder. Bonnie Oom, a 34-year-old receptionist went for walks every morning before work. She was kidnapped in Grand Rapids in 1986. Her body was found near Pickerel Lake in northern Kent County . She'd been raped and brutally murdered.
"We keep hoping, but the more time that goes by, the less chance you have of solving it," her mother, Celeste Oom, said.
But, police say, they're a DNA sample away.
"The DNA evidence that had been obtained from Bonnie Oom had been entered into CODIS (the FBI's national DNA database), so we're just waiting for it to match whoever," Schram said.
In records obtained by Target 8, police say they've identified as many as 33 possible suspects who lived in the area with violent criminal pasts, including murder, rape and kidnapping.
Thirty-two of them are in prison but won't provide DNA.
"If the police have a chance to solve some
of the unsolved cases, and there's a lot of unsolved murders, particularly in this area, they should have the right to take DNA," Oom's brother, Mike Oom, said.
Mike Oom voluntarily gave up his DNA several years ago after cold case detectives re-opened his sister's case.
"It bothers me a lot," he said. "I have to give up my DNA sample, what I'm created of, what I'm made of, but they can get away without doing it. It's not right."
One suspect in his sister's case was released from prison in 2002, police say, without a DNA sample -- and later died of natural causes.
"So, if the inmate has not provided a sample and that inmate has died, then we may never know who killed Bonnie Oom," Schram said.
Prison leaders say they'd like to help, but forcing prisoners to give up DNA would violate their constitutional rights. They say the state Attorney General is on their side.
"The sad reality is that we, as a society, have incarcerated an individual, so we, as a society, have to protect the rights they still have," state Department of Corrections spokesman John Cordell said.
"Just like you or I, that DNA profile for them is part of their personal makeup and it is constitutionally protected," Cordell said.
It's an argument that victims -- including the woman raped in her Kentwood home when she was 13 -- can't understand.
"I don't personally think that he should have had any rights. He broke into my parents' house and raped me. I didn't have any rights."
The dispute is over a state law (MCL 791.233d) that says prisoners "shall not be released" until they've provided a DNA sample.
For most prisoners, that's not an issue. Usually, sheriffs take the sample before they ship a convict to prison.
Police enter the DNA into an FBI nationwide network to see if it matches evidence left at the scenes of unsolved crimes, such as that rape in Kentwood .
But, most of the 6,000 who have refused the tests were in prison before sheriffs started taking them.
"The law is very clear, that they may take a sample at any point and they can take whatever steps are necessary to do it by force," said Schram, of the state police.
But, prison officials say, it's not that simple.
They read the law this way: that they can't take it by force until just before a prisoner is released, which means prisoners in for life would never have to give it up.
"We are very aware of what this means to victims, what this means to prosecutors who could solve cold cases," said Cordell, the prison spokesman. "We want to be a helper in this. We want to be someone who facilitates getting all these samples taken, but we can't violate the law either."
"Obviously that's illogical," Schram countered. "If you've got inmates that are in prison for life, or a significant amount of terms of years, those inmates are never going to get a DNA sample."
The dispute led the state police in March to get a search warrant for the DNA of prisoners in Brooks and Westshore prisons -- 118 who had refused to give it up.
Prison leaders question whether that search was constitutional -- saying it was like forcing DNA tests on everybody in a neighborhood just to find one criminal.
"Certainly, a prisoner could challenge that court order," Cordell said.
For the Kentwood rape victim, the DNA sample finally surrendered by her attacker gave her answers -- but not to all her questions.
She's 26 now, married with a baby.
After a jury found her attacker guilty, she visited him at the Kent County Jail. He told her he picked her out earlier, after seeing her walking her dog, that he'd been drinking a lot, and that he knew this day would come.
"He told me that while he was in prison he had studied DNA and that he was a very religious man and that he had prayed for his DNA to change so that he wouldn't get caught, because he knew that the second he gave up his DNA that he would be caught for what he did, because he knew it was out there," the victim said.
"It didn't really work out for him," she said.