David L. Stephens sentenced to life in prison for the 1988 murder of Judith Elaine Doherty

Sarasota Police report DNA evidence was the silent witness for 32 years

David L. Stephens sentenced to life in prison for the 1988 murder of Judith Elaine Doherty
A photo of Judith Elaine Doherty (Source: judgeg700)

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - David L. Stephens will spend the rest of his life in prison for the 1988 murder of Judith Elaine Doherty. According to a release from the Sarasota Police Department, he was sentenced on Wednesday for the crime.

Stephens was found guilty of the murder in January of 2020 after it was revealed that his DNA was at the scene of the murder and linked him to the crime.

On Dec. 3, 2018, detectives with the Sarasota Police Department served an arrest warrant to Stephens for Homicide and Sexual Battery in connection to the 1988 cold case homicide.

At the time of his arrest, he was already in prison at the DeSoto Correctional Institution in Arcadia on charges of Armed Sexual Battery and Burglary in connection to a February 1989 case that occurred in Sarasota County. He was scheduled to be released in July 2021.

“The life sentence given to David L. Stephens brings closure to this case and comfort to the Doherty family, knowing that Stephens will never victimize any one else,” Detective Anthony DeFrancisco, Sarasota Police Department.

“In this case, DNA evidence was the silent witness for 32 years. Judith Doherty’s brutal sexual battery and death remained unsolved, yet the silent witness was always there to tell its story,” said Karen Fraivillig, Assistant State Attorney. “David Stephens' DNA under Ms. Doherty’s fingernails linked him to her murder and showed how valiantly she struggled to loosen the grip of her killer’s hands from around her throat. The police are often faulted for having tunnel vision but the Sarasota Police Department did a methodical, deliberate investigation, involving the FBI, local agencies and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The Sarasota Police Department worked for more than three decades to find Judith Doherty’s rapist and killer. The State is gratified to finally obtain justice for Judith Doherty."

The 1988 Murder

On July 31, 1988, at approximately 10:30 a.m., Sarasota Police Officers were dispatched to Booker High School, 3201 North Orange Avenue in Sarasota, after a jogger in the area found Doherty’s body in a field.

An investigation revealed Doherty was the victim of a homicide and sexual battery. Doherty was 23 years old and was a resident of Venice, Florida.

The news conference from December 2018 announcing the charges against Stephens can be found on the Sarasota Police Department YouTube page at https://youtu.be/AOFlpVDYpxg

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