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"Real" CSI may have solved Imette's murder

Former FBI Profiler Clint Van Zandt:  "The wheels of justice turn at their own pace.  This is the case in the investigation of the grisly murder of 24-year-old criminal justice graduate student Imette St. Guillen.  In television "true" police dramas, the crime plays out, witnesses are interviewed, evidence is gathered and DNA is identified and matched to the suspect, all in less than 47 minutes, plus commercials.  Real law enforcement investigations take just a little longer."

The wheels of justice turn at their own pace.  This is the case in the investigation of the grisly murder of 24-year-old criminal justice graduate student Imette St. Guillen.  In television "true" police dramas, the crime plays out, witnesses are interviewed, evidence is gathered and DNA is identified and matched to the suspect, all in less than 47 minutes, plus commercials.  Real law enforcement investigations take just a little longer.  This has once again proved true in the investigation to identify the murderer of St. Guillen.  After last year's bombings in London, England, review of film from a number of surveillance cameras helped ID the bombers.  But similar cameras in the vicinity of The Falls Bar in the SoHo section of New York City, failed to show the victim on the street after she allegedly left the bar at 4:00 a.m. two weeks ago.  These same cameras also apparently failed to show her believed abductor, 41-year-old Darryl Littlejohn, the bouncer at The Falls.  Witnesses now say that Littlejohn was the last person seen with St. Guillen when she left the bar, partly under her own power.  According to two recently identified eyewitnesses across the street, Imette was then helped by Littlejohn into a dark van he was driving, this, perhaps, with his spoken but otherwise hollow promise, "Don't worry, I'll take you home."  Her tortured, beaten, and savaged body was found 17 hours later, some 15 miles away from The Falls, wrapped in an old flowered comforter and dropped along side a dead end road in a dead end part of New York City. 

This investigation was challenged from the start by the alleged misstatements of the manager of The Falls.  This manager apparently waited five long, critical days before finally "fessing up" to the truth that he had asked Littlejohn to remove St. Guillen from the bar at closing time.  He now is quoted saying that he may have heard a yell or scream after Littlejohn escorted St. Guillen outside, something he apparently did nothing about.  This is the same bar that three and one half years ago saw a woman attacked in the basement of the bar by a believed kitchen employee.  One newspaper account suggests that the bar owner or manager stonewalled the police investigation into this alleged assault on an under-aged drinking female patron by a male bar employee.  The investigation went nowhere and the victim's assailant was never identified.  Should St. Guillen have been murdered by Littlejohn, it would appear that he was given at least a five-day head start.  Littlejohn could have used that time to destroy any evidence that might link him to her murder, all this due to the alleged lack of candor and cooperation on the part of the manager and/or owner of the bar.  Protestors have demanded that the bar's liquor license be revoked, something that may well be done.  But, of course, the owner may open another bar in another location under another name.  The question is why was the reputation of the bar perhaps more important than their need to immediately tell police anything and everything they knew?  Shouldn't lying to the police, or even lack of candor in a homicide investigation, be a criminal act?  How does someone with potentially critical information that could help identify a murder suspect just conveniently forget to tell police who was last seen with the murder victim?  If this is so, how can such a person live in his own skin, taking comfort that he had the right to remain silent, even, perhaps, when he had to have had suspicions concerning Littlejohn.

One challenge for the bar owner or manager will be to explain why a seven-time convicted felon was working as a bouncer at the bar.  Littlejohn is currently out on parole.  One condition of his release is that he not be out after 9 p.m.  In New York, bouncers are required to take a three-day security course and be fingerprinted and checked out by the police and through FBI fingerprint records.  Had this requirement been met, Littlejohn would never have had contact with St. Guillen.  This crime would not have been committed, and she would be alive today.  Because these requirements were not met, Littlejohn, a man that the parole board called "a menace to society," was not only turned loose on the streets of New York City, but loose on potential victims like Imette.  He was a shark traveling in target rich waters and all he had to do was take his time and choose his victim(s).

Another major challenge to the homicide investigation was law enforcement's inability to forensically link Littlejohn to St. Guillen after she left the bar.  Initial examination of Littlejohn's home revealed a red carpet packing tape and plastic ties such as used to bind electrical wires together.   Fibers from Littlejohn's carpet and tape from his home matched the tape with attached carpet fibers used to bind St. Guillen's face and hold the sock that had been stuffed into the mouth of the 5'2," 105 pound woman.  Police have since taken bags of evidence from Littlejohn's house, and have recently seized the headboard from his bed and even removed drain pipes from his home, all apparently in the hope of finding DNA evidence that would prove St. Guillen had been with him in his house prior to her death.  DNA from under her fingernails, what many thought would be the "slam dunk" aspect of the forensic investigation, proved not to be Littlejohn's.  It in fact was not even male; it was probably her own DNA.  A semen stain found on the comforter in which her lifeless body was wrapped again proved not to be Littlejohn's.  Although authorities found themselves behind the power curve as far as the investigation concerning Littlejohn, they could take some solace in knowing that he was not going anywhere.  Littlejohn was now held on a 90-day parole violator's warrant - something that would guarantee that he could not run or destroy evidence were he to be St. Guillen's assailant.  This case may be presented this week to a grand jury in Brooklyn as authorities seek an indictment against Littlejohn.

Finally, a break in a case with few breaks to date.  On Sunday police announced that they had identified Littlejohn's blood/DNA as being on the plastic restraints that were used to bind St. Guillen, ones that are similar to the plastic ties found in his home.  Again no slam dunk (there are few of these in criminal investigations), but now police can do the following:  They can put Littlejohn in contact with St. Guillen when she was in The Falls, this by the manager and perhaps other patrons.  They can put her in Littlejohn's van by the two eye witnesses, at least one of which was able to describe St. Guillen's jewelry as Littlejohn drove her from the scene.  Information about her jewelry had intentionally been withheld from the public by police.  They can use the similarity of the carpet fibers and tape found in his home to show a linkage to the tape with fibers stuck on the tape that was used to wrap her face. They have plastic restraints found in his home that are similar to the one used to bind her hands behind her back.  They can now show to a scientific standard that his DNA was on the plastic constraints the killer used to stop Imette from fighting for her life.  Police also have Littlejohn's cell phone records that show his phone was used near the lonely location where St. Guillen's body was dumped by her believed killer, this a few hours before police were tipped off by an anonymous caller as to the location of her body.  Before his DNA was found the police had a fairly good circumstantial case, but one still as vulnerable to attack as Imette was the day of her death.  It's also been suggested that police have hair that is being examined, perhaps seized in the search of Littlejohn's home or vehicle.  Many know that part of Imette's hair was cruelly chopped off by her believed killer prior to his disposing of her body.  The results of these and other forensic examinations may help to further strengthen the case against Imette's believed killer.   Explaining away why his blood was on the plastic constraints that bound Imette will, hopefully, prove to be but one of a number of insurmountable challenges for Littlejohn.

Motive is the last link, the last big question to be answered in this case.  Should Imette have died at the hands of Littlejohn, why did he have to kill her?  We know that he has been identified as a suspect in a series of at least three kidnap/rapes of women in the New York City area since October 2005.  In these cases someone meeting Littlejohn's description, driving a van like his, and passing himself off as a law enforcement official, something Littlejohn is known to do, sexually assaulted these women.  The rapist then went so far as to force his victims to surrender their clothing (Imette was found nude), after which he wiped the victims down with alcohol wipes.  He even went so far as to make them gargle with a mouthwash, all perhaps to deny police any forensic evidence that would link the rapist to the rapes.  Although Littlejohn was initially identified by two of the rape victims in a police photo spread, both victims failed to pick him out of a lineup.  (Eyewitness identification, one of the weakest forms of identification, can go either way in a line up.)  Bottom line though, should Littlejohn be the suspected rapist, police will need some way to link him to the crimes other then being ID'd by the victims, at least one of whom never even saw her assailant.  Yesterday's break in the case-finding his blood on the constraints used to bind Imette-may be that link should DNA or other physical evidence have been recovered in these crimes.

Littlejohn protests his innocence, suggesting that he is being used as a scapegoat in these crimes.  But why, some will ask, did Littlejohn, if guilty of the brutal assault, rape, and murder of St. Guillen, have to kill her?  Most know that there's no legal requirement to prove motive during trial, but motive and opportunity are always something a jury wants to hear about.  It's obvious that St. Guillen would have known who her attacker was.  The bouncer at The Falls allegedly told her and others that he was a federal marshal.  Whoever killed the 24-year-old, dark-haired Hispanic beauty apparently did it of his own free will.  The devil didn't make him do it and one more unbelievable murder has been committed by perhaps the only person in the world to know the true motive for the crime, the killer himself. 

What we do know is that almost 100 murders have taken place so far this year in New York City.  Few others than perhaps close family members and police know anything about these other homicide victims, but most know about Imette.  Perhaps we know of her because of her physical beauty or perhaps because of the irony that she was studying criminal justice.  She may have been killed by someone like she studied in school.  Or perhaps we all can relate to being in her position - brave but vulnerable in a situation not of her own making.  Or maybe we know of her murder because the media somehow decided this crime was so brutal, so savage, and so terrible that we all needed to vicariously follow the investigation until it was solved.  A police melodrama played out across every TV, radio, and newspaper in the country - everyone with a private theory and a personal suspect - this while the police took their time, followed up clues, and methodically assembled their case.  One break, in this case DNA, appears now to have solved a crime so horrific that it captured our attention while making us look for the sense in such a senseless crime.  I wish we could give Imette the satisfaction of knowing that her killer appears to have been identified and that the likelihood of his ever doing this to another young woman appears very remote at this time.  I can wish it, but it won't make it so.                                                                                                      

Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of Inc. Van Zandt and his associates also developed , a Website dedicated "to develop, evaluate, and disseminate information to help prepare and inform individuals concerning personal and family security issues." During his 25-year career in the FBI, Van Zandt was a supervisor in the FBI's internationally renowned Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He was also the FBI's Chief Hostage Negotiator and was the leader of the analytical team tasked with identifying the "Unabomber."