Why did it take 6 years for an arrest in a 2006 rape case?
Updated: Friday, July 12 2013, 08:49 PM EDT
Rochester, N.Y. --- On Thursday a Rochester man could be sentenced to fifty years in state prison for breaking into a woman's home in May 2006 and raping her at knifepoint while her baby slept nearby.
Ronell McFadden, 35, was linked to the crime by DNA in September 2006. But he wasn't arrested for six years during which time he remained in our community committing other crimes. McFadden was convicted by a jury on February 1, 2013.
A 13WHAM News Investigation attempted to figure out why this was.
The court transcript (attached) from a November 8, 2012 pre-trial hearing appears to reveal the path McFadden’s case took in the criminal justice system. It describes how the case moved from desk to desk within the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office with little or no action until 2011. It also reveals that a letter dated September, 13, 2006 notified R.P.D. Captain Lynde Johnson and then Monroe County District Attorney Mike Green of the CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) match to “known offender” Ronell McFadden.
The May 2006 Crime
McFadden was convicted of 1st Degree Rape and 1st Degree Criminal Sex Act for the home invasion and rape of woman on Ambrose Street in Rochester. According to a D.A.’s Office news release McFadden “forced his way into the victim’s home where the victim and her baby were sleeping, threatening them both with a knife before raping her.”
That was on May 3rd, 2006 and the victim initially identified another man who was arrested, indicted, but eventually cleared by DNA. Assistant District Attorney Caroline Morrison acknowledged to the court that the CODIS hit for McFadden arrived at the office six days later.
ADA’s Offer 2 Explanations For Delay
The court transcript for a November 2012 pre-trial hearing offers at least two potential explanations as to why McFadden wasn’t arrested in 2006 and why the case appeared to travel from desk to desk with little action.
The Assistant District Attorney prosecuting the case at the time of this hearing was Alyssa Truelove. One of the witnesses was A.D.A. Caroline Morrison.
On the witness stand Morrison explained that she received the case in 2009 and prior to that at least three other prosecutors had the case. She told the court that "at the time I did have a very large case load" and that "I have 40 to 45 other cases that…were taking priority at the time." Morrison also noted than an intern reviewed these cases for her at one point.
Morrison said that in the Violent Felony Bureau "you are handed a case literally every other day" and that handling that case load is "more like dealing with a triage type of thing."
When asked, Morrison said she "took no action until 2011" at which time an investigator for the D.A.’s Office (C.J. Dominic) was sent out to locate the victim in March 2011.
Despite the CODIS match to McFadden Morrison told the court, "I didn't make attempts to locate Mr. McFadden."
Another explanation was argued in pre-trial motion hearings and during this November 2012 proceeding. A.D.A. Alyssa Truelove received the case in January 2012 and was in charge for McFadden’s arrest, indictment, and up to the trial. (A.D.A. Sara VanStrydonck was the trial lawyer.)
A.D.A. Truelove argued to the court that the victim was not “emotionally prepared” to proceed with the case and that was the explanation for the nearly six year delay in prosecution. On Wednesday we asked Truelove why she argued that when the victim claimed that wasn’t the case.
QUESTION: “At this hearing you represented basically that the victim wasn't ready to proceed and she said under oath she was ready to proceed?
TRUELOVE: “She said she was ready to proceed but she said she had blown off calls from our office and that she wasn't ready to deal with it she wanted justice but she wasn't ready to go forward at that time."
The victim was called to the stand and claimed that Investigator Dominic told her about the DNA match for the first time in March 2011. She was asked under oath if "from 2006 to 2011 were you contacted by anyone from the District Attorney's office?" and said “no."
She admits not attending a June 2011 meeting at the D.A.’s Office following her meeting with Investigator Dominic but she also stated under oath that she would have “cooperated" with the prosecution and "testified" at trial.
"I was lucky, I got in contact with her and she was ready to go forward at that time,” A.D.A. Truelove said of her first dealings with the victim in January 2012. “C.J. Dominic from our office began working on it and luckily we got a conviction and there's justice years later but, although she wanted justice, it took her years to be prepared to go forward with what was going to be ahead of her."
What About The CODIS (DNA) Hit?
When asked if she knew why this case sat in the office since 2006 with a CODIS hit on it, A.D.A. Truelove told 13WHAM News that “it was a sealed case, investigation, it got into my hands in January and we began working it in the spring of last year.”
QUESTION: "But despite this CODIS hit you don't know why it sat for five years?”
TRUELOVE: “But a CODIS hit you also need to have the victim's cooperation and you need to have a comparison and we didn't have that until last spring.”
QUESTION: “Right and there were no efforts to go get that comparison?”
TRUELOVE: “In regards to that comparison I don't know. I took over in January. But I know that without having a cooperating victim you can't do anything."
Where Was Ronell McFadden between 2006 & 2012?
Where Was Ronell McFadden between 2006 & 2012?
The simple answer appears to be that he was in Rochester and he was sometimes in the Monroe County Jail. In the hearing his lawyer (Brian Shulman) stated that his client was in jail from August 2009 to April 2010 because he faced a burglary charge that he was eventually found not guilty of.
Monroe County Jail Records obtained by 13WHAM News show that from 2008 to 2012 McFadden was incarcerated six different times for a total of fifty days. McFadden told the court at this November 2012 hearing that he was arrested“probably like five or six times for violating (an) order of protection.”
According to records 13WHAM News obtained at the Monroe County Clerk’s Office McFadden’s 2008 cocaine-related arrest on five drug charges, including a B-level felony charge, resulted in a plea to a misdemeanor and a sentence of three years probation.
Records also indicate that in 2011 he was arrested and charged with nine crimes after an incident that unfolded on Interstate 490 involving his one year-old son and that child’s mother.
She claimed in police paperwork that while driving with her son in the backseat McFadden “started choking me and pulling my hair” and that he later “slammed my head against the driver side window.”
She told police at the time, “I am afraid of him and want him arrested.”
That arrest was in June 2011. Court paperwork indicates he pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge in exchange for thirty days in jail.
From 1995 to 1997 McFadden spent time in New York State Prison for a drug conviction out of Chemung County. From 1998 to 2005 he served seven years of an eight year sentence for a Robbery 2nd Degree conviction out of Chemung County. 13WHAM News also obtained McFadden’s prison discipline record that documents numerous violations and incidents while he was behind bars.
Response To This Report
Upon McFadden’s conviction on February 1st the news release issued by the D.A.’s Office included a quote from Sandra Doorley.
“Rapes are among the most horrific crimes that we prosecute, and any time that we’re able to remove a sexual predator like Ronell McFadden from the streets, it’s a victory for this community,” said Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley. “This conviction was a long time coming, and a tremendous amount of the credit goes to the District Attorney Investigators for bringing Ronell McFadden to justice. Without their tenacity, he may well have escaped paying for his crime.”
Upon receiving that release 13WHAM News inquired about the particulars of this case. After more than a month of seeking an explanation or comment D.A. Doorley’s spokesman confirmed an interview for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. At 9:30 a.m. the interview was cancelled stating that Ms. Doorley “is not comfortable commenting until after sentencing” Thursday.
A Rochester Police Spokesman deferred comment to the D.A.’s Office until after sentencing is complete.
A.D.A. Truelove was located outside the office Wednesday afternoon and her response is above.
McFadden's lawyer declined comment.
McFadden is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday afternoon and faces up to 50 years in prison.