DNA tests have once again cast doubt on a key aspect of the case against Carlton Gary, the so-called Columbus "Stocking Strangler" who was convicted in one of the most notorious serial rape cases in Georgia history.
This time, DNA tests of sperm found on the gown of the only eyewitness to identify Gary as her attacker found that the sperm did not come from him. The witness, Gertrude Miller, who is now deceased, testified she was awakened in her bedroom and Gary struck her with a board before raping her.
A previous DNA test showed that semen found on a woman Gary was convicted of raping and killing also did not come from Gary.
During the 1986 trial, prosecutors did not try to convict Gary for raping Miller but used her as a key witness because she identified him as her rapist. Prosecutors introduced her testimony to show jurors that Gary committed similar crimes.
Miller, 64 at the time of the attack, initially told police she could not identify who attacked her the night of Sept. 11, 1977, and only one man was involved, according to police records. At trial, she identified Gary as the man who sexually assaulted her.
Gary was sentenced to death for strangling three women with their own stockings between September 1977 and April 1978 in an upscale Columbus neighborhood. He was convicted of killing Martha Thurmond, 69, Kathleen Woodruff, 74, and Florence Scheible, 89. He was also accused in the deaths of four other women and of raping Miller.
A 2010 DNA test by the GBI showed that semen found in the case involving Thurmond did not match Gary. But the test also found that DNA samples taken from 71-year-old Jean Dimenstein did come from Gary. Like they did with Miller, prosecutors introduced evidence at trial involving the attack of Dimenstein to show he committed similar crimes. Dimenstein is one of the four other women Gary was accused of -- but not convicted of -- raping and killing.
DNA testing, not available at the time of trial, was allowed after the Georgia Supreme Court halted Gary's execution in 2009 less than four hours before he was to be put to death.
DNA tests on evidence in the Woodruff case were inconclusive and there was nothing to test in the Scheible case, Gary's lawyer, Jack Martin, said.
Martin said he will ask for a new trial for Gary based in part on the DNA testing of Miller's gown by Bode Technology, a private DNA testing lab in Virginia.
"Gertrude Miller was the sole witness to identify the defendant and was one of the essential pillars of the state's case," Martin said. "We've contended for years she was mistaken and now we know for certain she was."
In a statement, Muscogee County District Attorney Julia Slater said the DNA test of the clothing Miller "possibly wore around the time of her attack" is complete but said she was limited in what she could say about it.
"However, on behalf of the victims and their families," Slater said, "the state eagerly anticipates discussing in court the results of DNA testing, responding to the rhetoric from Mr. Gary’s defense team and again showing why the jury’s decision in this case must be upheld."
When told Slater's statement, Martin said, "The record is clear this was the blood-stained clothing Ms. Miller wore at the time of the attack. ... I'm similarly eagerly anticipating how the state can possibly make this new evidence go away."
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