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Helping St. Jude's find a better tomorrow

Rita Cosby blogs: "As some of you know, I lost my mother to cancer in December 2002, and today in Florida, along Donald Trump and others, I am participating with the wonderful people of in an effort to help raise funds and awareness for children with cancer. "

I feel blessed to have a job and team at NBC that I love, but today I am doing something I equally believe in... if not more. I humbled and privileged to give back and hope I can make a difference.

It involves a cause that is very dear to my heart. As some of you know, I lost my mother to cancer in December 2002, and today in Florida, along Donald Trump and others, I am participating with the wonderful people of in an effort to help raise funds and awareness for children with cancer.

When my mother was very sick and spending her days and nights at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, she rarely showed fear or distress. My mother was truly a brave woman to the end, and always talked about others and their troubles versus her own. There were times however that my mom was visibly upset... whenever she'd see a young child afflicted with cancer. My mom, in her most frail moments, told me how fortunate she was to have had a full life and how her heart broke for these young children who've experienced so little joy and already so much pain. Seeing my mom's face as she spoke so lovingly about this, and seeing the faces of so many young children getting pushed in wheelchairs or stretchers, are images I will never forget. These faces are part of what inspires me today to try to help in anyway I possibly can.

St. Jude is an amazing place of treatment, research and most of all, hope. It has treated children from every state in America, and from more than 70 foreign countries. Each year alone, some 4,400 children are seen at the hospital. This great organization is the only pediatric cancer research center where the families never pay for treatments that are not covered by insurance…and St. Jude never asks families without insurance to pay at all. The hospital’s extensive research program spans from bone marrow transplantation, to radiation treatment, to blood diseases, to influenza, even to AIDS.

It is a great honor to participate today in the Palm Beach Inaugural Gala for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital at Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump's beautiful place, which resembles a palace. But the kings and queens at this event are the children. Donald Trump also deserves high honors, for his dedication and love of giving back to great causes like this. He truly wants to make a difference, and I really applaude his work.

I urge you to learn more about St. Jude and the amazing work it does with its pediatric cancer patients. For more information, you can visit http://www.stjude.org/. Moreover, I hope you feel equally inspired to help in any cause or mission you yourself believe in. There is nothing more rewarding than knowing you've played some role, even a small one, in a better tomorrow.

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For close to two weeks we've been bringing you the very latest on potential links to bar bouncer Darryl Littlejohn in the gruesome murder of graduate student Imette St. Guillen. Earlier this week I had the opportunity to hear Littlejohn's side of the story, and to speak with Kevin O'Donnell, the lawyer representing ex-con Littlejohn in this case. O'Donnell said that Littlejohn claims he did not argue with anyone the night Imette was sexually assaulted and murdered, and also that Littlejohn drove straight home that night after working at The Falls bar.... he says he drove home alone.

O'Donnell shared new information on our show, and some of O'Donnell's comments add new twists to this murder case. He discounted witness claims that Littlejohn arrived and drove away in dark blue van, explaining that Littlejohn's dark blue van is "completely inoperable" and had been sitting unused in his driveway since January. Additionally, O'Donnell explained that when he recently visited with Littlejohn at Riker's Island Prison, he did not see a scratch on the bouncer's neck, as reported earlier, or any other visible scratches that could have deposited blood on the ties binding Imette's hands.

O'Donnell stressed that his main goal is make sure that Littlejohn has a fair trial. "I want to make sure that the process remains intact," he said. "Because of all the intense media scrutiny and the animal that he's been portrayed to be throughout the media, it's going to be difficult for him to get a fair trial." O'Donnell also said that his client would plead "not guilty" in this case against him.

O'Donnell's new details on Littlejohn's inoperable blue van and his claim of innocence add a new layer to this murder case as we wait for the grand jury to return an indictment against Littlejohn as early as this week. He also said his investigators plan to go to the Falls bar and determine why the owner held back on providing key information to authorities. I know law enforcement authorities still have many questions about the bar as well. I think there will be some new angles developing in the coming days. As always, we will continue to keep you posted on the latest breaking details on this case.

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CSI: New York (Rita Cosby)

Could forensic evidence crack the case of who murdered 24-year-old New York graduate student Imette St. Guillen?  After extensive DNA testing, New York police say that blood from their prime suspect, bouncer Darryl Littlejohn, was found on the plastic ties that bound Imette’s hands. Commissioner Raymond Kelly said that a DNA match is very powerful evidence, given the odds for a match are one in a trillion.

So we decided to see firsthand how investigators can gather this kind of evidence and make a DNA match. We’ve just come back from visiting the forensics lab at John Jay College, where Imette was a criminology student. What Dr. Larry Kobilinsky showed us was incredible... investigators first try to detect stains on surfaces such as plastic ties through manual checking and ultra-violet lights, and then they process DNA samples through state-of-the-art machines that print out readings of the DNA makeup of their sample.  The science is fascinating. Tonight on the show, we’ll give you an up-close view of how authorities will probably solve this case. 

On our tour of the lab, Dr. Kobilinsky, who has been involved in forensics for many years and is considered one of the best in the country, told us that he believes this new DNA evidence linking Littlejohn to Imette’s bound-and-murdered body will soon lead to charges against Littlejohn, and Kobilinsky believes that the new forensic evidence will ultimately lead to a conviction.

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As I write this, I’m standing in front of the Queens, New York home of the man some are calling a potential suspect in the horrific murder of Imette St. Guillen.  At this hour, he is still being held and questioned by authorities at the 75th Precinct in Brooklyn.  He’s been held for many hours now since some interesting developments have occurred in this murder case.  There are reports that he was the last one seen with Imette before she left The Falls bar in the wee hours of Saturday morning, a week ago.  And now there’s word that authorities have determined through cell phone records that at 6 a.m. last Saturday morning, he was actually close to the area where her Imette’s body was located.  Also, certain cat hairs were found on the quilt that her body was wrapped in, and there’s word police have learned that there is a cat living in the basement of The Falls. 

Additionally, while scouring the bar for clues over the weekend, authorities found clear packing tape similar to what was found wrapped around Imette’s head.  Authorities want to solve this case and continue to question other employees at The Falls as well as others who may have come in contact with Imette, but they continue to focus on him. 

While outside the potential suspect's house today, I spoke to his Aunt Addie Harris, who told me she supports her nephew and described him as someone who kept to himself. She admits he’s had a criminal past, with burglary and drug charges, but she says she has never seen anything in his nature regarding violence towards women.  His house is a modest two-story yellow home near JFK airport that on most days is a quiet neighborhood.  But today, the neighborhood was filled with media and police officers, who were waiting outside his house until they received a search warrant, allowing them to check the inside of the home.

Neighbors we talked to described the man as a polite, courteous and quiet person.  The question now is, was this “reserved” man capable of playing a role in such an atrocious crime?  Tonight we’ll have the very latest on this case, as we’ll be outside The Falls bar, where Imette was last seen alive.

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Over the years, I've covered many crime stories, but this one is so disturbing. It has been really tough to cover, and my heart just breaks for her family.

I continue to be stunned and horrified to hear about the brutal murder of a beautiful, bright graduate student who was kidnapped and raped, and then abandoned dead along a highway in Brooklyn, New York this weekend. This murder has now caught the attention of not just New Yorkers, but people all over America. Saturday, police found the body of Imette St. Guillen. Her ankles were bound with shoelaces; her face covered with nearly clear, packaging tape. She was wrapped in a quilt with a distinctive flower pattern. The police have released a photo of this quilt to the public, looking for leads.

Police are hoping that one of their leads, the anonymous 911 caller, will come forward with maybe more information on what happened to Imette. Tuesday, as I walked through the scenes connected to this terrible crime, with retired New York Police commander Detective Joe Cardinale, I saw first-hand that the person who called 911 seems to have been familiar with the area. Detective Cardinale showed me that there were two sets of pay phones... and the caller chose the one outside, the more remote telephone. He chose to stay anonymous. The detective also pointed out a surveillance camera in the parking lot so perhaps the police caught a glimpse of the caller... or what may be the killer's car. The key thing that Detective Cardinale told me was that this caller was familiar with the area.

It was also so heartbreaking for me to talk with Imette's mother and sister. They are a very close family and the death of their daughter and sister is devastating. They are still in such shock from the recent murder of their loved one. Imette's mother, Maureen, told me, "I don't want to focus on the brutality of her death, but I'd just love for people to know the person that she was and how much she really cared for other people, how she loved her life." Her mother used to call her "La reina," Spanish for the queen. Imette's sister, Alejandra, was worried that this could happen again to someone else, saying, "You know, hate breeds hate, and we're not, you know, here to curse anybody or anything like that, but the person who did this obviously, you know, needs to be brought to justice." All the family can do now is wait for the investigators to do their work, and hopefully the anonymous caller or another witness will step forward.

In a transcript released Wednesday of Imette's last phone conversation, she told her friend, "I'll be home later," but she never made it. Imette was scheduled to graduate this semester from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. Not just her friends and family, but her fellow criminology students and professors are outraged at the brutality that came upon such a young, promising woman.

We'll continue to follow-up on this shocking story and seek justice for Imette. If you have any information about this case, I urge you to please call Crimestoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS.

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