DNA leads to cold case conviction of man who killed Sarasota woman in 1988

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

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - David Stephens has been found guilty of the 1988 murder of a Sarasota woman, a crime that was solved through DNA.

The murder happened on July 31, 1998 near Booker High School. The following day, the newspaper headline read, "Woman’s body found behind Sarasota School.” That woman was 23-year-old Judith Elaine Doherty.

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

For 30 years, the crime remained unsolved until detectives submitted evidence from the crime scene to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s laboratory in 2009. New advancements in DNA technology finally found a match to 64-year-old David L. Stephens.

David L. Stephens, 62, for Homicide and Sexual Battery
David L. Stephens, 62, for Homicide and Sexual Battery (Source: Sarasota Police Department)

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

Detectives said he brutally beat, sexually battered and strangled Doherty, leaving her lifeless body on the ground in a field by her car.

“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 battery 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.”

Stephens will be sentenced in April.

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