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  • Writer's pictureScott Shellenberger

Baltimore County judge rules testimony from other victims can be used in decades-old rape case

By Cassidy Jensen | The Baltimore Sun | February 15, 2024 | Original Source


The three women were all in their early 20s in the 1980s. They lived in ground-floor apartments in Cockeysville, within half a mile of each other, with two of them in the same apartment complex. All three told county police that a bearded man with dark, slicked-back hair entered their homes at night and raped them.


According to Baltimore County prosecutors, the man who sexually assaulted the three women in 1982 and 1986 was James William Shipe Sr., 71, of Parkville. Police arrested Shipe in August and charged him the decades-old rapes, relying on DNA evidence preserved on slides by the late Dr. Rudiger Breitenecker of Greater Baltimore Medical Center.


Baltimore County Circuit Judge Garett P. Glennon Jr. ruled Thursday that evidence from two of the women could be used at Shipe’s trial on charges related to a third woman.


Although charging papers describe the attacks of five women in the 1970s and 1980s, a grand jury indicted Shipe on 17 counts related to three separate incidents.


Baltimore County Assistant State’s Attorney John Magee said Thursday that the state would begin by trying Shipe on five counts of first-degree and second-degree rape, first-degree and second-degree sex offenses and burglary related to a May 6, 1986, attack on  one victim.


Typically, a defendant’s other criminal cases or behavior beyond their charges can’t be presented at trial, but state law creates an exception for “sexually assaultive behavior,” because sexual offenses tend to occur behind closed doors and can lack physical evidence. That law gives prosecutors a tool to bolster a witness’s testimony, Glennon said.


Shipe did not appear Thursday, opting to remain in lockup at the Baltimore County Detention Center, his attorney Joseph Pappafotis said. Pappafotis argued unsuccessfully that presenting evidence from the other two women at the trial would unfairly prejudice a jury against his client.


The two women, Baltimore County natives who now live out of state, testified separately Thursday but told similar stories.


One was 21 years old in 1986 and living away from home for the first time. One warm September night, she was home alone watching TV. The air conditioner was broken, so she opened the sliding glass door. Later that night, after she finished blow-drying her hair, a man suddenly grabbed her from behind and covered her nose and mouth.


“If you don’t do what I say, I’ll kill you,” she said the naked man told her.


He pushed her into her bedroom and onto her waterbed, she said, then raped her.


“This was my worst nightmare, it’s every woman’s worst nightmare, and it’s happening,” she remembered thinking.


Eventually, she began screaming and he fled.


She shut her bedroom door and clutched an iron, in case he was waiting in her living room. He wasn’t, but he had unplugged her phone from the wall. She underwent an examination at GBMC, allowing for the collection of physical evidence in her case before modern DNA analysis and rape kits existed.


Baltimore County officials have said they will complete testing of all remaining slide evidence collected at the Towson hospital before the end of the year.


The second woman who testified described similar details from her 1982 rape; she too was home alone at night, watching TV. After falling asleep on the floor, she heard the front door open. At first, she thought the person might need help — maybe his car had broken down outside. Then she saw his fly was unzipped.


“I knew there was a different reason he came in,” she said.


The man threatened her and put his hand over her nose and mouth as she screamed, she said. At one point, she ended up on the floor with her head pointed toward her studio apartment’s kitchen.


“I was thinking that I was going to die near a bag of trash,” she testified Thursday.


The woman described trying to retain information about her assailant, like his ring and his t-shirt, as he assaulted her and tried to tie her hands together with a bra.


Before he left, the woman said he instructed her not to call police and attempted to unplug her Mickey Mouse phone. When he failed, he simply removed the receiver from its hook. She too was examined at GBMC.


The second woman said she previously identified a different man who was not Shipe in a photo array police showed her, and then picked that man out of a line-up.


Neither woman knew Shipe. Both said their attacker had entered through unlocked doors. The third woman, slated to be the main witness in the state’s case, was raped on May 6, 1986, Magee said. The 22-year-old’s bedroom window was unlocked and she woke up with a naked man in her bed. Magee said that after the man attacked her, he pulled her phone out of the wall.


“The defendant’s DNA was linked to both of their sexual assaults,” Magee said of the two women who testified Thursday, adding that their testimony was necessary to the third woman’s case. “Science has caught up and science has told us who the perpetrator is in all of these cases.”


Pappafotis argued that allowing evidence from the other two women would be unfair and that the state’s decision to sever the various cases amounted to an admission that combining evidence from charges related to multiple victims was improper.


Glennon said he found the two women’s testimony “absolutely credible,” and was especially struck by their honesty when they admitted they could not recall certain facts from four decades ago.


“This evidence bolsters the DNA and is a separate form of evidence that is admissible,” the judge said.

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