DNA stored in police fridge for 21 years crack case

The hunt by GTA police for killer and rapist Alexander Winston Sylvester began 30 years ago, at a time when there were no computerized police data banks or DNA testing.

It successfully ended this month when Sylvester, 55, stood up in Old City Hall Court to face charges of sexual assault with a weapon, kidnapping, forcible confinement, robbery, threatening death and kidnapping.
One of the four sex attacks Sylvester’s charged with dates back to 1981, when a 14-year-old girl was dragged into bushes and raped in Mississauga.
“It was a totally different time,” Const. Lillian Fitzpatrick of Peel Regional Police said Tuesday. “There was no DNA analysis to generate a profile.”
That victim, now 44, told police she’d be willing to testify in court. So have three women — all of whom are now seniors — who were sexually assaulted at gunpoint in their homes in the Huntingwood Ave. and Brimley Rd. area of Scarborough in June 1993.
Forensic evidence from the 14-year-old’s attack had been stored in a Peel police fridge until 2002, when an officer decided to send it to the downtown Toronto Centre of Forensic Sciences for testing.
Shortly afterwards, the victim learned a suspect had finally been identified in her attack.
“She has just been wonderful through the whole thing,” said Fitzpatrick, Peel’s lead investigator on the case. “It has been a long journey for (all of) them and this is the last step in that journey.”
A half dozen Peel and Toronto police officers and forensics specialists carried the case over the past decade.
Sylvester fell onto the Canadian police radar in 2002, while he was serving time for drug and weapons offences in Allenwood maximum security federal prison in White Deer, Pa.
That was when Peel Const. David Emberlin sent the evidence from the 1981 rape to the Centre of Forensic Sciences for analysis. Science had improved since then and he was curious about what might be found.
Peel police crime analyst Hayley Giles was able to connect the same DNA to a 1982 rape in Peel that Sylvester was convicted of committing.
Giles then sifted through a raft of offenders’ addresses, descriptions and crime patterns until Sylvester surfaced as a “person of interest.”
“Had (Emberlin) not done that, we could not have gotten that link with Toronto (sex assaults) from 1993,” Fitzpatrick said.
The connection Giles made was enough for Toronto police to obtain a warrant to take a sample of Sylvester’s DNA while he was in prison in Pennsylvania.
Shortly afterwards, GTA police began their attempts to extradite him.
The legal snarls were as challenging as the forensics.
American extradition laws vary state by state. Authorities in Pennsylvania denied Canada’s initial request that he be extradited to face the rape charges.
However, Sylvester gave them another chance. After his release from the Pennsylvania prison, he was soon back in custody, this time in Louisiana on other charges.
“We didn’t think we’d be successful but we tried anyway,” said Det. Ali Ansari of the Toronto Police Service sex crimes unit. “To our surprise, we were successful and we were able to deport.”
Sylvester originally arrived in Toronto in 1980 as a visitor from Jamaica. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail that year for possession of cocaine and a restricted weapon in Scarborough.
Since the 1990s, Sylvester has served time in Louisiana, Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania for an assortment of charges, ranging from the murder of a drug dealer to a parole violation.
Through it all, the GTA remained a home of sorts for Sylvester, who once jumped parole in the U.S. to visit a wife here. The couple has since divorced.
He didn’t appear particularly flustered when he was arrested while in prison and told he would be facing the decades-old GTA charges.
“He just seemed to roll with it,” Fitzpatrick said. “I don’t think he’s surprised by anything.”
Ansari said it’s a satisfying feeling to have him in custody in the GTA again.
“They are serious offences,” Ansari said. “We don’t let these things go. We do our best to bring people who commit these kinds of crimes to justice, no matter how long it takes.”

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