MEDINA — A cold case from 1997 involving a 17-year-old girl who was allegedly raped by a truck driver in Medina County has been reopened due to technological advances in DNA testing, authorities said Wednesday at a press conference.
Prosecutors used familial DNA testing to locate Samuel Legg III, of Chandler, Arizona. Legg was brought back to Ohio last month when he was indicted for the 22-year-old crime. He has also been linked to two homicides in Ohio and one in Illinois, but indictments on those separate cases have not been obtained.
Medina County Prosecutor S. Forrest Thompson said the 49-year-old Legg will be arraigned on the rape charge this morning in Medina County Common Pleas Judge Joyce V. Kimbler’s court. He was in Medina County Jail on Wednesday after being transported from Arizona.
The now-near 40-year-old victim told authorities that she hitchhiked from her then home in Lexington, Ohio, to visit her boyfriend in Cleveland in 1997. On her return trip to Richland County, she accepted a ride from Legg at a gas station at the U.S. Route 224 exchange in Westfield Township on Interstate 71.
Authorities said Legg was an independent truck driver who drove for a company in Hinckley.
That’s when the alleged rape occurred, with the victim first pursuing charges outside of the county.
Lexington police requested a rape kit at a Mansfield hospital and turned it over to the Medina County Sheriff’s Office.
Thompson said the Medina County prosecutor’s office — then under the direction of Dean Holman — decided the evidence was not strong enough to bring charges against Legg in November 1997.
Even though the rape case was never prosecuted, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said Wednesday that Legg’s DNA stayed in the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, “until our technology made a partial hit.”
CODIS enables federal, state and local forensic laboratories to exchange and compare DNA profiles electronically, which can potentially link violent crimes to one another.
In this case, forensic analysts took a DNA sample from an unknown male in one of the unrelated homicides and found that it was genetically linked to the rape kit in Medina County.
“(The familial match is) not as definitive as a full DNA workup, but it’s a very useful tool in trying to identify an unknown suspect,” Yost said. “We have a large DNA network with lots and lots of people in it.”
A search warrant was secured to get a DNA sample from Legg. Thompson and Sheriff’s Detective Kevin Ross flew to Arizona to get a blood sample, which identified Legg as the rape suspect.
Thompson submitted the evidence to a grand jury, which indicted Legg on two counts of rape in January.
Thompson credited the Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Laurie Braunschweiger with finding the crack in the case, calling her a “machine.” She refused to give up until she found the positive results they were seeking, he said.
“The Medina case gave us the key to unlock the identity,” Yost said. “In law enforcement, more and more it’s collaboration. It’s a team effort. In this case, we had authorities in different states and different county jurisdictions that all worked together, providing pieces to the puzzle to a very broad story that is really turning out to have some shocking implications.”
“This (rape case) wasn’t on our radar until BCI reached out to us (in December),” Thompson said. “Justice had been denied to this young woman.”
He said he reached out to the victim.
“She was more relieved on being believed,” Thomson said. “She wants him brought to justice. She was absolutely devastated by the gravity of the other (murder) cases.”
When Thompson and Ross flew to Arizona to make the arrest, they found Legg living in a group home. Thompson said Legg has had some issues with schizophrenia and has been married four times.
He was also a transient who lived for a time in Florida and Texas.
And while Legg had had some brushes with the law prior to the alleged rape in Medina County, Thompson said, it was nothing of any substance. That might have entered into the decision not to prosecute originally, although the prosecutor said there was some question to the credibility of the victim.
Now, more than 20 years later, Thompson said a stronger case can be made.
Braunschweiger had reviewed the file from start to finish and there had been some “insufficiencies” in the case, Thompson said.
“It was not as complete as it should have been,” he said. “The rejection of the case was premature.”
At a press conference Wednesday at the sheriff’s office, Yost said Legg has been identified as a suspect in three homicides. He refused to say where the bodies were found, other than two are in Ohio.
“None of the homicides are here in Medina County,” Thompson said. “I can only tell you all the victims were female, all were found at truck stops and all were left in completely or partially naked states.
“Every law enforcement (agency) on the (Interstate) 71 corridor is taking a hard look at this. As of Friday, other jurisdictions are looking at it.”
The killings occurred in the 1990s — two prior to the alleged rape and one afterward.
Ohio is one of 12 states that use familial DNA in criminal cases.
A familial DNA test is a search by law enforcement in DNA databases for genetic information indicating a relative of a person they seek to identify.
Previously, when direct DNA matches could not be made — often because the owner of the DNA has never been arrested or convicted of a crime — police reached a dead end. But more than a decade ago, British police developed a new way to search for anyone who might be closely related to whoever left DNA at a crime scene.
“Familial” matching was born.
Ohio’s first use of familial DNA came in December 2016 when Justin A. Christian, 29, of Lorain, was charged with multiple felonies in connection with a February 2016 abduction attempt in Elyria and a related kidnapping three months later in Cleveland. He later was sentenced to 31 years in prison.
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