Sarasota Police solve 30-year-old cold case

Sarasota Police solve 30-year-old cold case
23-year-old Judith Elaine Doherty (Source: Sarasota Police Department)

SARASOTA (WWSB) - A 30-year-old cold case has been solved by the Sarasota Police Department.

Sarasota Police Detectives uses DNA to solve 30 year-old homicide

Sarasota Police used DNA evidence to link a man to the murder of 23-year-old Judith Elaine Doherty.

It happened July 31st of 1988 near Booker High School. The day’s newspaper showed a headline hard to miss: “Woman’s body found behind Sarasota School.”

“To lose her at that stage was agonizing, a life unfinished," said Karon Aron, Doherty’s sister.

For family, the brutal murder of Judith Elaine Doherty was hard enough to bear, not to mention 30 years of nothing but a sister’s continual promise to her grave.

“I said Judy, I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but I promise you, before I leave this world, you will see justice," Aron said. "Somehow it’s gonna happen.”

Karen Aron was right.

“The DNA match was irrefutable,” said Detective Anthony DeFrancisco.

The detectives submitted evidence from the crime scene to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s laboratory in 2009.

"This analysis revealed that male DNA was obtained from the victim’s body,” said Detective DeFrancisco.

New advancements in DNA technology finally found a match to 62-year-old David L. Stephens.

Detectives said he brutally beat, sexually battered and strangled 23-year-old Judith Elaine Doherty to her death.

He then left her on the ground in a field next to her car.

“The suspect that we state in this case, David Stephens, actually lived across the street from Booker High School at 3206 Goodrich [Avenue], said Detective DeFrancisco,

Stephens has eight felony convictions and is already in prison at the DeSoto Correctional Institution for a separate armed sexual batter and burglary in 1989.

He was scheduled to be released in July 2021 and was never even on the radar for this murder, until the DNA hit.

“DNA is the key to solving many of these cold cases," said Detective DeFrancisco. "Without DNA, without the testing they do now, we wouldn’t be doing this, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.”

The Sarasota Police Department couldn’t give certain details on the case, including why or how the suspect and victim knew each other.

Detectives said this is still an open investigation.

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