DNA links incarcerated man to Sarasota cold case

- Judith Doherty was just 23 years old when her body was found in a field at Booker High School. 

A jogger found Doherty's body in the field on July 31, 1988. She had been raped and strangled. 

Detectives with the Sarasota Police Department worked to find her killer, but the case went cold.

In 2009, Detective Anthony DeFrancisco decided to take another look. 

Using DNA technology that did not exist in 1988, Sarasota police were able to link a sample to the national system - and they got a match. 

It led investigators to David Stephens. Stephens was already serving time in the DeSoto Correctional Facility for an armed sexual battery and burglary that occurred months after Doherty's murder in Sarasota County. 

"DNA is the key to solving many of these cold cases. Without DNA and the testing they do now we wouldn't be having this conversation," said Det. DeFrancisco. 

Many of Doherty's relatives have since passed away without having seen closure. 

Doherty's older sister, Karen Aron said this was a moment she has prayed for. 

"I know that she had hopes and dreams for her own future. She had some issues in her own life she was still young. She was a fledgling at 23 and she was a young 23. To lose her at that stage was agonizing. It was a life unfinished," said Aron. 

Stephens remains in the DeSoto Correctional facility. He has eight felony convictions in his past. He will once again face a judge for Homicide and sexual battery. 

“You’re bringing closure and peace and healing to a family that has suffered terribly. The reverberations were huge for many many people. And there will be healing and justice for Judith Elaine," said Aron. 

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