Chicago Rape Cold Case: CPD - "We got him"

By Lucas Seiler

A 44-year-old Chicago man’s DNA was a perfect match to DNA samples taken from a rape victim in 1998, according to a forensic scientist that testified Monday in Cook County criminal court.

Ferrell Cunningham is being charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault and sexual penetration with use of force. He could serve up to 120 years in prison if convicted.

Cunningham was arrested over a year ago in connection with the alleged attack. Cunningham was charged after he was arrested on a felony charge in Wisconsin last year, extradited to Illinois and has been held in the Cook County Jail. As DNA testing has become more accurate, it was possible to connect him with the rape victim.

The alleged assault took place in 1998 in an alley at the Chicago’s South Side neighborhood of Beverly during the St. Patrick’s Day parade. The victim had just attended a Black Hawks game and was celebrating her 21st birthday with her parents.

After the assault, the victim has reported the incident. Oral and vaginal swabs were taken and then stored in a national database. The defendant’s DNA was also placed in a national database.

Judge Michael Brown said that this was considered “a cold case” until new DNA technologies were available. Testimony dealt with oral swab testing, which tests skin cells from the victim’s mouth.

According to Judge Brown, the defendant "came up behind the victim and dragged her down."

Three forensic scientists, all from the Illinois State Police crime lab, testified and said they began looking at the DNA in March 2008. Their results connected Cunningham with the assault.

Brian Schoon, a forensic scientist from the Illinois State Police crime lab, said the lab received extracted DNA from oral and vaginal swabs. They also received semen stains from the victim’s blue jeans.

The lab first received the DNA samples in May 1999. Staff then performed a number of tests over several days. The lab the received the semen stains from the blue jeans in July 1999.

During testing, it was found that some of the DNA was degraded, which says that the DNA had been contaminated in some way. Although state’s attorney Mark Ertler, testified that degradation does not case a DNA profile to change.

“The DNA profile would not change into another DNA profile because of degradation,” said Ertler.

Forensic scientist Greg Didomenic verified Ertler’s statement.

“DNA was degraded, but that would not have prevented me from moving forward with those samples,” said Didomenic.

Karri Broddas, another forensic scientist, testified that she performed the scientific testing on the DNA samples. She said she completed a three-year training program to use the DNA test at the state police crime lab. She said that she has been conducting tests since 2003.

Cunningham’s public defender objected and asked that Broddas not be considered an expert witness on this subject and said she has not had enough training and experience. The judge overruled that claim and allowed to seat Broddas as an expert witness.

“The DNA was a match at all location,” said Broddas. “It was a positive identification for Ferrell Cunningham.”

The 12-member jury will make their decision on this case. Cunningham faces six to 120 years in prison if convicted.