I-Team takes close look at how ‘touch DNA’ helped solve Cleveland rape case

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CLEVELAND-- The video was both chilling, and all too real.

Around Labor Day weekend of 2014, Cleveland authorities released a grainy surveillance video showing the beginning of a rape on Lake Road on the city's west side.

With three armed attacks over just a few days - two rapes and the robbery of two more women - police were starting to believe that a serial rapist was on the loose.

Hoping to catch a break before the attacker struck again, authorities asked that the video be played on television.

"When it was played by FOX 8, our (county) prosecutor, Tim McGinty, was at home and was watching it," said Rick Bell, the Special Investigations Chief in the prosecutor's office.

"We got immediate texts (from McGinty) to assemble first thing in the morning," Bell said.

That meeting included a large cross-section of local law enforcement - including Cleveland police detectives, Cuyahoga County sheriff's deputies, prosecutors, and their own investigators.

They had a lot of people working to find the rapist - but very few leads.

The I-Team has now pieced together how investigators used a series of high-tech methods - many that weren't available just a few years ago - to stop an attacker in his tracks.

They began by doing what's known as a "cell phone dump."

"We pulled every phone number, from every tower (on the west side), from all the different cell phone companies," said Brian Radigan, a major trial attorney in the prosecutor's office.

The Lake Road rape occurred just before dawn - a break for investigators because fewer people are on their cell phones in the early morning hours.

Still, the first cell phone dump for a three-hour period led to a list of thousands of calls.

So investigators narrowed their search to a period of time in the moments just before and after the Lake Road rape.

And that led them to focus in on one particular call.

"One phone number matched someone who at least had sexual allegations in their past," Radigan says.

Modern computer technology allows law enforcement detectives to cross a list of cell phone users with a criminal database.

That led them to a man with past allegations of sexual crimes.

But there was a catch - that man had an alibi for the moment of the Lake Road attack.

So they looked at who he called.

And that led them to James Daniel - and prosecutors said Daniel had a history of sexual offenses.

Still, the rapist in the Lake Road attack, as well as in a similar attack in neighboring Lakewood, had used a condom - perhaps thinking that using one would save him from a DNA match.

But technology has advanced to where authorities can now get what's called "touch DNA" from almost any contact where DNA would transfer.

"And if you watch the (Lake Road) video," Bell said, "you can see that the rapist violently takes down the victim from behind, and, as he's taking her down, his touch DNA is on the back of her sports bra."

Similarly, in the Lakewood case, investigators asked the medical examiner to test the inside of the victim's pants pocket because, Bell said, "when the rapist raped the victim, he also reached into her pants pocket to rob her."

On both the sports bra and in the pants pocket, the medical examiner found James Daniel's touch DNA.

"This case would not have been solved back in 1996," said Judge David Matia, in whose courtroom Daniel was tried, and then convicted by a jury.

"Back then, you needed a nickel or a quarter-size sample of fluid to run DNA testing," Matia said.

"We asked the jury what's a reasonable, rational explanation as to why James Daniel's DNA is on the Lake Road victim, and the Lakewood victim," Radigan said, "and there isn't one."

Judge Matia sentenced Daniel to 144 years in prison before he'll be eligible for parole.

"You'll be put away for the rest of your life," Matia told Daniel at sentencing, "where you deserve to stay."

Bell said the case shows that working together and employing the latest technology, "there's hope to make our streets safer."

Asked what it means to tell the victims that they've caught their attacker, Bell said simply, "it makes the job worthwhile; it makes the job worthwhile."

**Read more on this case here**