Law enforcement recently accused a dead man of committing a string of decades-old sex crimes, and Charlotte’s media unthinkingly went along, declaring the cases closed and the suspect guilty.
“Genetic genealogy helping solve cold cases tonight in Charlotte,” WCNC anchor Fred Shropshire intoned earlier this month during an evening broadcast. “Charlotte-Mecklenburg police detectives have ID’d the so-called ‘Myers Park rapist’ who’s responsible for sexually assaulting more than a dozen young girls in the ’90s.”
He continued, “They credit genetic genealogy in helping pinpoint the man responsible. The suspect’s name: David Doran. He passed away in 2008. Police are alerting other police departments across the country to see if he’s connected to any other assaults.”
Shropshire wasn’t alone in declaring Doran’s guilt at the behest of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
WBTV’s Alex Giles referred to Doran as “the one,” while his colleague Caroline Hicks noted law enforcement “never gave up on their police work and determining who was responsible for wreaking havoc on the Myers Park community,” work which she suggested was now complete.
Most of the coverage featured a picture of Doran, helping to ensure his posthumous ignominy as he lay in his grave helpless to defend himself. And none of the news stories suggested any attempt by reporters to wrestle with the version of facts presented by law enforcement — despite some obvious questions journalists ought to have asked.
Between 1990 and 1999, one or more individuals committed fifteen sexual assaults against girls and young women in and around south Charlotte, including the affluent Myers Park neighborhood. All but two of the victims were under eighteen years of age. The perpetrator would crawl through a house’s window in the middle of the night, take the victim out of the house, assault the victim, and then release her without further harming her.
Local media called whoever was committing these crimes the Myers Park rapist.
As CMPD Sergeant Darrell Price said at a press conference earlier this month, hundreds of man hours were spent on the investigation in the 1990s and “dozens” of suspects were identified, but none were ever charged. (Sort of: In 2009, police arrested Gilbert McNair, a Black man, and charged him with six rapes. He ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to thirty-six years in prison. Then-Police Chief Rodney Monroe announced the arrest at a community meeting, and at least one media outlet reported McNair was the Myers Park rapist. Two days later, the same outlet ran a story quoting a CMPD detective explaining that McNair was not, in fact, the Myers Park rapist.)
“Kind of one of the problems was our suspect always wore a full ski mask. He wore gloves. He left very little evidence behind,” Price explained. He added that some victims identified their attacker as Hispanic “because he did speak with a Hispanic accent.”
About a decade after the first assault, the attacks abruptly stopped in 1999, and for years, detectives made no progress in solving the cases.
In 2006, CMPD established its sexual assault cold case unit. Investigators re-tested “secondary items” associated with the Myers Park rapist for possible DNA. (Price identified bed sheets as an example of a secondary item.) Ten years later, in 2016, a member of the unit was able to identify a DNA profile on one of the secondary items in the possession of CMPD. But it was a partial profile and couldn’t be run through the national DNA database.
Finally, in 2019, investigators identified a full DNA profile on another item, and it was entered into the national database. There were no hits.
CMPD called a press conference on December 6 “to discuss major developments in a series of sexual assault cold case investigations from the 1990s.”
Chief Johnny Jennings opened with self-congratulatory remarks.
“I’m going to start out by saying that the city and county of Charlotte-Mecklenburg has an awful lot to be proud of with their police department,” he said.
CMPD officers “work tirelessly every day,” Jennings explained, and he was “very proud to lead such a fine organization.”
This set the tone: The department’s announcement was intended to serve the public relations interests of law enforcement, and the media were invited to adopt this narrative as their own.
As for the sexual assault cold case unit, Jennings highlighted its funding sources — eight grants! — and its staffing: a sergeant, advocate, investigator, prosecutor, and four otherwise retired detectives who possess a combined 150 years of experience.
“They’ll tell you they never forget about these cases,” Jennings told reporters.
The story line set for the assembled journalists — this is a law enforcement triumph to be cheered rather than questioned — Sergeant Price took to the podium to talk about the Myers Park rapist.
When the full DNA profile found in 2019 didn’t match any suspects cataloged in the national DNA database, CMPD contacted the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (“SAKI”) in Washington, D.C., a program run by the U.S. Department of Justice that, as its name suggests, funds testing of sexual assault kits. SAKI agreed to fund forensic genetic genealogy of the DNA profile captured by CMPD.
In January 2020, with money from SAKI, CMPD sent its captured DNA sample to Parabon Laboratories to conduct testing. A year later, in early 2021, the lab sent its results to the department.
Price explained Parabon’s report described a number of probable traits related to the suspect.
“There’s a 90% chance your person’s going to have hazel eyes,” he offered as an example. “He definitely was caucasian.”
Price added that the police knew the perpetrator’s height and weight based on victims’ statements: Reports at the time of the attacks pegged the perpetrator as between 20 and 30 years old with a height of between 5’2″ and 5’4″ and a muscular build.
Perhaps most importantly, the forensic genetic genealogy conducted by Parabon identified a distant ancestor of the source of the DNA profile. “Our person’s going to be related to a great-great-grandfather or great-great-grandmother,” Price explained.
Identifying a distant relative of the suspect allows police to perform a sort of genetic reverse-engineering: They can use databases of DNA — like those collected by 23andMe or ancestry.com — to identify a relative of the person who left DNA at the crime scene and then work from that relative to the suspect. (As with all seemingly miraculous scientific advances, this one has flaws its advocates rarely acknowledge.)
Price explained investigators then used the information from Parabon to “pour through the internet” in an effort to identify and locate heirs of the identified relative who had the opportunity to commit the crimes and “that particular mindset to do these crimes.”
Earlier this year, that led police to the long-dead Doran — who, it should be remembered is, by definition, innocent.
Nonetheless, Price summarily concluded at this month’s press conference, “We were able to get a sample that was a known sample from our suspect and compared it one-to-one, and they matched. So we know that that suspect is the Myers Park rapist.”
He then took questions.
A reporter asked if the police had any idea why the attacks stopped in 1999 and if Doran was suspected of committing crimes in other communities.
Notice the unspoken premise of these questions: Doran’s guilt. Police weren’t making allegations against him, but speaking truths about him.
Price seized the opportunity.
“Well, we’re certain there were other communities,” he said, explaining CMPD is working with the FBI and agencies in other areas where Doran lived — including California, Texas, and Ohio — to see if there’s any evidence he committed similar crimes there.
Then, without identifying a shred of evidence to support such a sweeping statement, Price accused Doran of countless other crimes: “It would not surprise me if he’s not responsible for fifty or more across the country because you gotta think, he started in Charlotte when he was forty-nine years old, and people don’t become rapists at forty-nine-years-old. … Throughout his younger years, I feel certain he did this all across the country.”
Not a single journalist piped up to insist the sergeant produce evidence substantiating this scurrilous allegation.
But what about the first part of the question? Why did the assaults suddenly stop in 1999? Did Doran go to prison for unrelated crimes or move out of the area?
No, Price answered, Doran didn’t go to prison, and he didn’t move.
So what explains the sudden halt in attacks from 1999 until Doran’s death in 2008?
Price just made something up: Doran likely “age[d] out” of raping minors. (He added the police “know of at least two others” Doran committed after 1999 — which is inconsistent with the “aged out” theory police are otherwise relying on — but he declined to provide details “because they’re still working them to try to prove” Doran’s guilt. More conclusory allegations without evidence. And, once more, no questions from reporters challenging the sergeant.)
Another journalist asked if Doran had been convicted of any other crimes.
Price answered he was convicted in 2001 of possession of burglary tools. No convictions for any violent crimes, and no lengthy rap sheet.
Had Doran been previously identified as a suspect?
He had not.
What about his background?
Price explained that during his time in North Carolina, Doran lived in and around Denver and Statesville — not Charlotte and not Myers Park — and ran a scooter shop in Lincoln County.
He continued, “To our knowledge, he never lived in Myers Park. … This is what we were told by some distant family members: that he was a cat burglar, that he burglarized houses in the middle of the night and stole high-end jewelry, which would be why he was in Myers Park.”
“He was a cat burglar, and he was in it for the jewelry, and he would send it off with a couple of his cohorts to different locations so it didn’t end up back in our pawn shops.” (A reminder: Doran was never charged with, nor convicted of, stealing high-end jewelry, and the sole source of this information, which Price presented as fact and the reporters accepted as such, were unnamed “distant family members.” There’s no sign reporters themselves tried to locate and speak to either Doran’s family members or his alleged “cohorts” about any aspect of the allegations against him. The media relied exclusively on the cops to report the story.)
The questions then shifted away from Doran and toward CMPD.
“What was it like to talk to victims?”
There was a mix of feelings, Price said, including confusion: “Some thought the cases had been cleared already,” he said. (That’s because then-Chief Monroe fingered McNair for the crimes in 2009.)
Other reporters wanted to know what it meant to the detectives to clear the cases.
“Everybody is thrilled,” Price said.
Everybody, we may assume, except Doran.
Reporters asked Price roughly ten questions, half about Doran’s guilt and half about CMPD’s accomplishment in purportedly cracking the case.
Here are some of the most pressing questions they didn’t ask:
Did Doran match the description of the attacker provided by the victims? We know that as to at least some victims, he did not. As Price explained, some of the girls and women said their attacker spoke with a Hispanic accent, and the police provided no evidence Doran spoke with such an accent. What accounts for this discrepancy? And another thing: Multiple news outlets reminded viewers and listeners that in the 1990s, the suspect was described as a short man — between 5’2″ and 5’4″ — in his 20s with a muscular build. How tall was Doran? What kind of build did he have? And how do cops account for the fact that while the victims said their attacker was in his 20s, Doran was in his 50s when the crimes occurred?
From where did the full DNA profile of the suspected rapist come? Price explained that members of the cold case unit swabbed certain “secondary items” from the crime scenes in the search for DNA. Their work turned up a partial profile in 2016. On what item was this found and from which crime scene did it come? Investigators then found a full profile in 2019. On what item was this found and from which crime scene did it come? And what explains the failure to locate the full profile when technicians were looking for it between 2006 and 2019? Furthermore, how do we know the crime scene materials were free from contamination during the decades between the time of collection and the time of swabbing? What procedures were in place to render such evidence secure and, therefore, reliable? (It’s not necessarily uncommon for sloppy police work to result in errors in collecting and interpreting DNA evidence.)
Was the partial DNA profile found in 2016 consistent with the full DNA profile found in 2019? CMPD suggested — without saying outright — that the partial DNA profile found in 2016 was simply an incomplete version of the full DNA profile found in 2019. Was that so? Or is there reason to believe the 2016 partial profile came from a different person than the 2019 full profile? If so, doesn’t that cast doubt on Doran’s guilt, as there would seem to be DNA profiles of multiple suspects at the crime scenes?
To how many of these crimes does DNA evidence allegedly link Doran? Police attributed fifteen sexual assaults to the Myers Park rapist. To how many of these is Doran linked by DNA? As to those for which there is no DNA link, what is the basis of the conclusion that Doran committed those crimes?
From where did the known sample of Doran’s DNA come? He died in 2008. At no time in his life was he a suspect, and police never collected his DNA while he was alive. It wasn’t until 2021 that the outside lab sent CMPD its report that ultimately led investigators to Doran. By that time, he had been dead for thirteen years. Where did police get a known sample of his DNA, and how do they know it was his DNA?
What, exactly, does it mean to say the DNA profile from the crime scene matched Doran’s purported DNA profile? Scientists and experts don’t traffic in a binary world. They deal in probabilities. What odds did the experts put on the Myers Park rapist’s DNA profile belonging to someone other than the profile CMPD attributed to Doran?
Who are these “distant family members” who claimed Doran was a cat burglar in Myers Park, and what was the basis of their knowledge? Doran lurking around Myers Park at night plays a key part in CMPD’s narrative. Without this detail, Doran’s just a guy who lives in Lincoln and Iredell counties who has no connection to the neighborhood. Unnamed family members are the only source of this allegation of cat burglary in south Charlotte. Who are they? How do they know? And why should we believe them? And what about these “cohorts” who allegedly conspired with Doran to launder stolen jewelry? Who are they? Did police talk with them? What did they have to say about the possibility of Doran being the Myers Park rapist? Did they provide any evidence that would tend to either incriminate or exonerate him?
What evidence supports the assertion Doran committed crimes all over the country? The police have a problem: As Sergeant Price explained, people don’t qualify for AARP membership and then suddenly start raping women and girls. For Doran to work as a suspect, CMPD needed to paint a picture of him as a lifelong degenerate. So they asserted that he previously committed dozens of crimes all across the country. But what evidence supports this assertion? And if there isn’t any, doesn’t that cast some doubt on Doran’s being the Myers Park rapist?
There may well be answers to these questions that support law enforcement’s allegations against Doran, but the journalists whose job it is to make such inquiries failed to do so. Indeed, from start to finish, the press conference at which police proclaimed Doran’s guilt lasted just twenty minutes, and, to CMPD’s credit, it ended only when reporters stopped quizzing Price.
Such journalistic failure is particularly acute in the setting of a deceased suspect accused of the most wicked of crimes.
A dead man can neither protest his innocence nor confess his guilt.
He cannot challenge law enforcement officers’ allegations against him nor the evidence relied upon by them in making those accusations.
A dead man does not in any way enjoy the fundamental privileges and protections of our criminal justice system, and, should state agents lodge allegations against him, his identity, legacy, and memory exist at the mercy of those empowered to merely accuse.
It’s for this reason that any public allegation of criminal wrongdoing leveled by the police against a dead suspect should be greeted with the greatest of skepticism, and journalists, as a mediating institution between the state and the people, are well-positioned to effectively exhibit and articulate such doubt — if they would only choose to do so instead of succumbing to the sort of credulity characteristic of those in thrall to officialdom.