Likely Suspect

Page 5 of 7

The victim, who never saw her attacker's face, could only describe him as being 5-foot-10 and weighing approximately 190 pounds. The only clues left behind were partial prints left by the intruder on the front-door deadbolt and a strip of tape used to disable a locking bar.

Unfortunately, as with the previous case, the police had no suspect with whom to compare the prints.

The following July, a young married woman whose husband was out of town on business was dressing for work when a man burst into her apartment bedroom and threw a blanket over her head before sexually assaulting her and taking $20 and a Discover card from her purse. Through the traumatic event, she later told investigators, she had talked of being the mother of a young son and begged that her life be spared. She also asked that her attacker use a condom during the rape. All she could remember the man saying in response was for her to "settle down and shut up."

Though she was unable to provide police with a description of the man who attacked her, a neighbor later told authorities of seeing a black man looking into the woman's apartment window. Another resident said she'd been walking her dog two days earlier and saw an unfamiliar African-American male near the rape victim's apartment.

While relatively certain the same person had committed all three rapes--and perhaps as many as a half dozen others--frustrated investigators had no real suspect on which to focus. The man they had been desperately searching for was little more than a faceless ghost. Until Gary Faison was arrested.

A year had passed since her attack when Gina Cotroneo received a call from DPD Detective James Skelly, informing her that the police had a suspect in custody. He asked if she would come to the station and look at a photo lineup. Despite arguing that she had not gotten a look at her assailant's face, she carefully studied the pictures of six young black men placed on a table in front of her. None looked familiar.

"Still, I could tell that Detective Skelly was excited about the man they had in custody," she says. He explained, in fact, that Faison was a suspect in several assaults. A sample of his blood was being sent off to determine if his DNA matched the semen sample she had provided investigators. First, however, he would be tried for a rape where fingerprint evidence had been found.

By September 1998, Faison had been indicted on three additional counts of sexual assault and one of aggravated assault with bodily injury. Detective Skelly told members of the media that there was the possibility that "three to five more cases" might be linked to Faison once DNA testing was completed.

By the end of the year, he had been convicted and sentenced to 90 years for the 1995 rape of the SMU student. Though the victim could not identify him and there was no DNA evidence presented, a partial fingerprint lifted from the deadbolt latch of the young woman's door and a thumbprint taken from the strip of tape used to disable the locking bar matched his. The jury deliberated only 90 minutes before finding Faison guilty.

And even before Cotroneo's trial date was set, Faison's troubles continued to mount. A woman who had been attacked in the parking lot of her apartment in 1991 saw his photograph in the newspaper and told police he looked like the man who had pulled her from her car, slammed her onto the pavement and attempted to rape her. The assault, she told authorities, had been interrupted by the arrival of another car, and the man had fled to a nearby Toyota.

It was, however, the second trial that offered what then-Assistant District Attorney Lisa Fox called "the jackpot," DNA evidence that experts said had a one-in-300 million chance of belonging to anyone other than Gary Faison.

By the spring of 1999, Gina Cotroneo had a new job and was regaining her positive outlook on life. But nothing could remove the dread she felt as she prepared to take the stand and detail for a group of strangers the assault and degradation she'd been subjected to two years earlier. "On one hand," she recalled as she sipped a cup of Starbucks coffee, "I felt a sense of relief that it was about to finally be over. By the same token, I really had to emotionally prepare myself for what I would have to do.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Carlton Stowers
Contact: Carlton Stowers