37 years later, a trial in mur­der case

DNA ev­i­dence led to ar­rest in 75-year-old’s killing

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE - By Tim Pru­dente tpru­dente@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/tim_pru­dente

Po­lice made the grisly dis­cov­ery decades ago in­side a West Bal­ti­more row­house.

A 75-year-old woman was bound, gagged and suf­fo­cated to death. Of­fi­cers found her in bed and naked be­low the waist. Anna Dorthea Smith had been sex­u­ally as­saulted and killed in 1981.

This week, 37 years later, Phillip Lee is stand­ing trial in her death.

“She had ac­tu­ally been bound, so she could not use her arms,” As­sis­tant State’s At­tor­ney Jen­nifer Hast­ings told ju­rors in open­ing state­ments. “She had a piece of fab­ric stuffed very hard in her mouth. … This was hor­ri­fy­ing.”

The case against Lee hinges on DNA re­cov­ered from sperm on Smith’s bed, tested years after her death. Dur­ing open­ing ar­gu­ments Mon­day, Lee’s de­fense at­tor­ney told ju­rors that ev­i­dence was tainted over the years.

“The prob­lem is the ev­i­dence con­trol area in Bal­ti­more City has been a mess — it’s a mess,” as­sis­tant pub­lic de­fender Jane Anna D. Smith McGough said. “All th­ese items were moldy.”

With short, gray­ing hair, the 58-year-old Lee nod­ded along. He has an eighth-grade ed­u­ca­tion and psy­chi­atric prob­lems, McGough told ju­rors. Lee is charged with mur­der, bur­glary and sex of­fenses.

It was a long road that led po­lice to bring the charges against him.

Back in 1981, Smith lived in­de­pen­dently on West Fair­mount Av­enue in the Ship­ley Hill neigh­bor­hood. Ju­rors saw a photo of her in a pink house dress stand­ing be­fore flow­ers.

OnDec. 7 of that year, her neigh­bor called po­lice after notic­ing Smith’s back door cracked open. De­tec­tives found the door had been pried.

In­side, the only light came from her sewing ma­chine, Bal­ti­more po­lice Lt. Ter­rence McLar­ney told ju­rors. Her chair was pushed out; there was cloth un­der the nee­dle.

“She may ac­tu­ally have been star­tled while she lit­er­ally sat at her sewing ma­chine,” said Hast­ings, the pros­e­cu­tor.

Po­lice found Smith bound on the bed, she said. Smith was gagged with a ball of cloth. A sweater was wrapped around her head. And her stock­ings were down at her an­kles. She had been dead for a few days.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors wrapped her in the bed­ding and brought her body for an au­topsy. Po­lice cat­a­loged and bagged the blan­kets in the ev­i­dence room of the Bal­ti­more Po­lice Depart­ment.

With no wit­nesses or ad­di­tional ev­i­dence, the case lan­guished.

“Foren­sic testing as we see it and hear about it to­day didn’t ex­ist,” Hast­ings said. “This es­sen­tially be­came a classic cold case.”

The Cold Case Unit re­viewed the evi- dence in 2005, sus­pect­ing that DNA tests un­avail­able in 1981 might bring new leads. They found and tested sperm from the bed­ding.

Bal­ti­more po­lice sent the re­sults to be cross-checked with the state’s DNA data­base, which in­cludes pro­files of sex of­fend­ers and other criminals.

Court records show Lee has been con­victed of drug pos­ses­sion, drug man­u­fac­tur­ing and bur­glary. It was not clear when Lee was re­quired to sub­mit his DNA to the state as a con­victed felon.

The match be­tween him and the ev­i­dence from Smith’s homi­cide came in 2008, three years after Bal­ti­more po­lice sub­mit­ted the DNA sam­ples to the state crime lab.

It took an­other three years for po­lice to in­ter­view Lee, and an­other three for them to ob­tain an ar­rest war­rant. In Sep­tem­ber 2014, a grand jury in­dicted Lee on the charges.

“Mr. Lee’s sperm is on the blan­ket where Ms. Smith was killed,” Hast­ings told the jury Mon­day.

Lee has de­nied the charges re­peat­edly. His trial is sched­uled for four days, and he re­mains the only per­son charged in Smith’s death.

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