REALITY CHECK: 81-year-old rape survivor finally gets justice after rape kit is tested
Mobile, AL (WPMI) —
An 81-year-old woman is telling her story of survival exclusively to NBC 15 News.
Twenty-four years ago she was raped by a complete stranger in her home.
This year she finally got closure when a jury convicted her attacker.
Using grant money, hundreds of rape kits in Mobile have been tested over the past couple of years and dozens more are getting ready to be sent to the lab.
The victim in this case hopes her story will give other women hope that justice is possible. Names in this story have been changed to protect the victim's identity.
It was October 13, 1994, 4:30 in the morning, when Cathy heard a loud crash.
Someone had kicked in her back door.
"I thought it had to be an airplane that hit my house and then all of a sudden there he was," said Cathy.
She never saw his face, only a shadow of a man standing over her in her bedroom.
"I was screaming so loud and he put a pillow over my face. And I thought God I'm going to smother to death. And I opened my mouth again when he took the pillow off to try and scream and he took the comforter and put it in my mouth and pushed so hard he pushed a tooth out of my head," she said.
That was only the beginning of the violence.
"He yanked me, got me by the leg, yanked me off the bed and slammed me to the floor you know. Then he grabbed the telephone cord and tied up my hands and from there he got his satisfaction," said Cathy.
Once she was certain he was gone she desperately ran for help.
"I was screaming, running as hard as I could to my neighbors. There I was, blood all down my face where he had pushed my tooth out," said Cathy.
"Her phone line had been cut on the outside so he knew he was going to go in there," said Cathy's daughter Jane.
Jane said nothing could have prepared her for the moment she realized her mother had been raped.
"All I can say is imagine how you would feel if you saw your mom like that. It's your mom. It tears you up," said Jane.
Cathy was 58 at the time. Her case went cold and for more than 20 years she lived every day in fear, never knowing who her attacker was and always wondering if he was someone she knew. For years she had trouble falling asleep before 4:30 a.m., the time of attack.
"I had to leave my beautiful little house. I was so afraid he would come back there and was still afraid he would come find me so I lived in fear until we were called two years ago," said Cathy.
The call she's referring to came from the Mobile Police Department.
The night Cathy was attacked, she went straight to the hospital for a rape kit where DNA evidence was collected.
That kit sat for years inside MPD's evidence locker. That is until 2015 when Lt. Joe Rose sent Cathy's kit to the state lab for testing. And just like that, they got a DNA match through a system called CODIS, linking now 52-year-old Paul Bailey to the crime. He was already in prison for kidnapping and robbing another woman just one month after he raped Cathy.
"How does a kit go 20 plus years without being tested, without being sent through CODIS?" asked NBC 15's Christian Jennings.
"Well actually it was tested initially. The problem was once the technology developed, apparently everyone focused on current cases coming in," said Lt. Rose.
Lt. Rose said Cathy's kit was sent to the lab back in the 90's, but back then you had to have a known blood sample to test against the kit's DNA in order to get a match. Cathy didn't know her attacker, so that wasn't possible.
Now, you don't have to have a suspect. Today's technology allows for the storing of DNA collected from convicted felons and arrestees.
In Cathy's case, when her rape kit went through the system again in 2015, DNA submitted by Paul Bailey was in CODIS because of his 1995 conviction. And the DNA in her kit matched his.
"When I realized that it had not been retested and the circumstances of the case, it made me sick that it hadn't gone back there. It wasn't anticipated that technology would develop," said Lt. Rose.
Now, hundreds of cold cases are back on the front burner.
Over the past couple of years, Mobile Police have made big, positive changes within the department. They created a Special Victims Unit and devoted detectives specifically to cold cases. Since 2015 Mobile Police have received $2.8 million in federal grants, to help with things like sexual assault kit testing and investigations.
"Under the 2015 grant, which is what we're doing our testing by, we have submitted to date 693 kits for testing or retesting. We have about 76 more to go," said Lt. Matthew James.
Of those 693, 84 cases got DNA hits in CODIS, which is a huge step forward for those victims.
"Don't ever give up hope and don't stop praying ever," said Cathy's daughter Jane.
As for Bailey, he's now a convicted rapist. Last month a jury took only 30 minutes to return a guilty verdict after hearing Cathy's testimony.
Meaning, she'll celebrate her 82nd birthday in May with gifts she thought would never come: Justice and peace.
"I really wanted to go over there and hit him as hard as I could hit him. If I killed him I didn't care. And I guess that's what got me through it. I could finally see who it was. Unbelievable," said Cathy.
Her only hope now is that this monster dies in prison.
"I thank God he's where he is so he won't do this again to anyone," said Cathy, who said she's forever grateful to the Mobile Police Department, specifically Lt. Rose who she calls her angel.
Paul Bailey is already serving a life sentence for different crimes, but he's currently eligible for parole. When he's sentenced for the rape next month, prosecutors will ask for life without the possibility of parole.
As for Cathy, for years she couldn't fall asleep before 4:30 in the morning, the time of the attack. Now, she's going to sleep well before midnight and is finally able to truly rest.