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Centre County Turns To DNA To Solve Cold Cases

In Centre County this week, police and prosecutors again filed rape and sexual assault charges in another cold case that is decades old.

County law enforcement were among the first in the country to successfully take cases to court based solely on DNA evidence.

In May of 1995, a Penn State student, due to graduate the next day, was found brutally beaten along a State College street after being raped and left for dead.

“Back in 1995, it was common for crimes of violence, where there was nothing other than physical evidence to identify a perpetrator, to go unsolved and have the statute of limitation expire after five years.”

So, in 2000, shortly before the statute of limitations would have expired in the borough rape case, then State College Detective Tom Jordan, and former county district attorney Ray Gricar, filed something rarely done before: a criminal complaint with a generic identity.

Instead, it identified a future suspect primarily based on the unique DNA evidence from the crime scene, a John Doe complaint.

“He and Mr. Gricar were the first ones to file one on the eastern seaboard. The filing of the John Doe criminal complaint was picked up by the national press. Detective Jordan began receiving phone calls from SVU units across the country.”

That criminal complaint led to the 2021 arrest of Scott Williams, who is still awaiting trial in Centre County.

State College police used a similar DNA evidence approach in another cold case.

Jeffrey Fields was convicted of raping four Penn State students between 2010 and 2017.

Then, this week, Michigan businessman Kurt Rillema was charged in a 2000 rape at a State College golf course.

Police say a coffee cup used by Rillema provided DNA that links him to the crime.

We asked if police now have a blueprint in DNA cases.

“Certainly, the experience of the case pending, as well as the other one resolved through a guilty plea, were very instructive. This case was different because a different DNA methodology was used.”

That different methodology included Rillema also being a suspect in a 1999 rape in Michigan.

Police using and comparing the DNA from the two separate cases to eventually arrest Rillema.

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