Arrest made in 30-Year-Old Cold Case
SARASOTA- New DNA technology leads to a break in a 30-year-old homicide case in Sarasota, 23-year-old Judith Elaine Doherty was found dead in a field at Booker High School in 1988, today her family finally has some closure.
“I am here today to represent that family that was in agony,” Doherty’s sister Karen Aron said. “The parents that never got to see closure, I remember the pain, and my children’s pain was great.”
Just after 10:30 AM on July 31st, 1988 Judith Elaine Doherty was found brutally beaten, sexually battered and strangled to death. For more than 20 years the police had no leads.
In 2009, Detective Anthony DeFransisco re-tested the evidence. The results found male DNA on the victim’s body, and that DNA matched to David L. Stephens, who in 1988 lived just across the street from Booker High.
“The DNA match was irrefutable,” DeFransisco said. “Very strong.”
Stephens is in prison at the Desoto Correctional Institution serving time for a 1989 armed sexual battery and burglary.
“Mr. Stephens at that time,” DeFransisco said. “Broke through a hole in a bedroom window with a 9 in. knife, and being masked, he sexually assaulted the victim in that case at knifepoint while the victim’s children slept in the next room.”
Detective DeFransisco says the 2009 DNA hit was just the beginning of the investigation.
“It took several years of interviews and excluding people from the crime scene to get to the point where they were today.”
The investigation is still active; Detectives are still piecing together the events that led to the murder.
“Judith as kind and good as she was actually had a problem with drugs,” DeFransisco said. “And actually had been clean for a while but had relapsed recently which is how she ended up in the Newtown area at that location.”
Judith’s sister Karen Aron is grateful police never gave up on her sister’s case.
“You’re bringing closure and peace and healing to a family that suffered terribly,” Aron said. “The reverberations were huge for many, many people and their will be healing, and there will be justice for Judith Elaine Doherty.”
David Stephens was scheduled to be released from prison in July 2021, but he will be going to trial on these new charges.