Light Rail stop

Shown is the Cherry Hill light rail stop, 1700 Cherry Hill Road. (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun / May 29, 2012)

When Maryland’s highest court ruled in late April that taking DNA samples before a suspect is convicted was unconstitutional, it was clear a lot more was at stake than the important legal argument.

Every one of the 13 rapes solved after the General Assembly authorized police in 2009 to take the post-arrest DNA samples had a story, and The Baltimore Sun wanted to provide our readers with the details about the real life implications of the case.

To do that, The Sun researched one of the first cases prosecuted in Baltimore County that involved a man, Gregory Leslie Brown, who was arrested in February 2009 on sex abuse charges. His DNA was taken using a cotton swab run along the inside of his cheek and cross checked with DNA samples from evidence in unsolved cases. Brown’s DNA was found to be a match in two rapes in 2000 and 2004.

Using police and legal documents filed at courthouses in the city, Baltimore County and Annapolis, the Sun pieced together the story about the rapes and the charges filed against Brown.

The files contained details from a trial on the rape from 2004, involving a girl who was then 13 years old.

The newspaper has a policy against identifying rape victims, but court files contain the names.  The Sun used a legal search to track down a phone number for the woman, who is now 21.

She agreed to an interview, and through her words and her account of the rape – which happened in the back seat of a Cherry Hill cab – the implications of the April court ruling came to life.

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has pledged to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the Court of Appeals ruling, and allow law enforcement in the state to continue to take the post-arrest DNA samples. If the Supreme Court does not take the case, or agrees with the Court of Appeals, Brown could have the legal grounds to challenge his life sentence.

To get Brown’s side of the story, the Sun watched recordings of the trial in the Cherry Hill rape, called his attorneys, and mailed him a letter in prison. As Brown had told the judge in his trial, he told the Sun in a three-page handwritten note that he is innocent.

Featuring the story of the rape allows readers to explore the question of how far police should be able to go to solve a crime and whether taking a DNA sample from a suspect stomps on an individual’s right guaranteed in the constitution.