I-Team: Documents unsealed regarding alleged serial rapist
WEST MICHIGAN (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - The Newschannel 3 I-Team today is releasing new details regarding a series of sex assaults that terrified an entire community more than two decades ago. Our team uncovered documents that have been sealed by law enforcement for 22 years.
The nine assaults we investigated happened in Kalamazoo and Berrien Counties in 1989 and 1990. Recently police said DNA proves Robert Taylor, a man who's currently in prison, is responsible for all the violent attacks.
Even though police have their man, Taylor won't be charged for the sexual misconduct because the statute of limitations ran out in 1996.
After we learned about the lack of justice, the Newschannel 3 I-Team wanted to find out why law enforcement wasn't able to pin these crimes on Taylor in the early 90's.
Victims say the system is letting them down.
"I've been with this thing (a knife) for twenty years and I will use it on him," said rape victim Tammy Stipe.
We asked Stipe to allow us to withhold her identity to protect her but she told us she wanted to go public with her outrage about the crime committed against her.
"I'll make sure he can't rape nobody," Stipe said. "I got a lot of hate in me."
Tammy's not alone. Another victim who did want her identity protected told us every detail of the scariest moment of her life.
"To me it felt like a lifetime, I thought I was going to die," the victim said. "My two-year-old son was in bed with me and all I kept thinking about was how do I want my family to remember me."
Both victims thought they were going to be murdered. Their stories to us after all these years are similar and true.
Our study of seven different rapes in 1989 and 1990 show the same method of operation generally in each case. The attacker breaks into an apartment and surprises the victim in bed.
"He threw a pillow case over me, tied me up with a bra around my neck, and tied my hands behind my back with an iron," Stipe said.
Several composite sketches were drawn in 1990 to show what the suspect could look like. A regional task force formed to investigate more than 130 suspects. There were tons of tips and intense public outcry. Everybody wanted to get this guy.
But after all that time and effort, an arrest was never made. The records the I-Team found seems to indicate why they didn't go after Taylor. The documents show detectives were looking at the wrong people. Two men were prime suspects but years later when DNA testing started, they were cleared.
Last year, a new law passed to force current prisoners to give DNA and then a big hit. A 1-in-559-quadrillion chance the serial rapist isn't Taylor. Records show Taylor, legally, refused to give a DNA sample five times over the years before he was required to do it last year.
"They didn't make him give that DNA," one victim said. "How different would my life have been?"
But the shocker for these victims was to come.
The list of charges is intense against Taylor, 32 of them. But, after all this time, the prosecutor's final decision was: "arrest warrant denied".
A law created in the 1980's basically gave detectives a short window of opportunity to get this guy. The police had only until 1996 to pin the rapes on Taylor.
"It is flat-out wrong," said Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Carrie Klein. "It's not fair, it's frightening, but it is the way the law is written."
Taylor has a chance to be paroled in December. He's in prison because he got caught in 1990 breaking into a house and sexually assaulting a 9-year old child in Kalamazoo County.
But for some reason, detectives didn't see a link between that case and all the rest of the sex assaults. Add on the fact the rapes stopped when Taylor was incarcerated.
That's why the victims feel let down.
"To me that was an opportunity because he didn't go into that house looking for that 9-year old girl, he went in for the mother," a victim said.
Even if Taylor isn't paroled this year, he'll be a free man in 2021 at the age of 59.
"I know this man is going to get out and he's going to do it again," Stipe said.
We took the victims' concerns to lawmakers.
"It is very frustrating and my heart goes out to the victims of the horrible heinous crimes," said Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, (R), Kalamazoo).
Senator Schuitmaker outraged at the news earlier this year that the statute of limitations has run out on all these rapes. We asked the Senator to take a second look at any kind of change to force Taylor to answer these charges. We were told it can't happen.
"We're trying to make sure that people are held accountable for their crimes, yet, also respect the Constitution of the United States," Sen. Schuitmaker said.
Our request for a final look went to the State Attorney General's Office. A written opinion to the police said: "I am sorry we are not able to provide better news on this matter".
Fortunately now there's no longer a statute of limitations for first degree rape cases but the older cases will all be tossed out because of the older limits.
"There are going to be identified perpetrators who cannot be prosecuted because the statute has run," Klein said.
For Taylor his next parole hearing is in December where he'll make the argument he should be free. Numerous letters are being sent to the parole board by prosecutors, law enforcement and victims.
"I believe the evidence that they have shows the right decision not to free Taylor," Klein said. "I have confidence they'll make the right decision."
Perhaps it's hard to believe a man who caused so much pain, forcing Tammy to sleep next to her knife for twenty years, forcing another victim to move from place to place to place running from her past, can enjoy the same freedoms we enjoy.
"I think a lot of people in law enforcement would call this just a colossal failure," Chief Investigative Reporter David Bailey asked a victim.
"He doesn't deserve to ever walk out of that prison," the victim said.
There is one more thing that can be done. Lawmakers are hoping if Taylor does commit any kind of crime when he gets out in 9 years, that the judge at time of sentencing can pin extra penalties on him to try to put him in prison for the rest of his life.
The Newschannel 3 I-Team contacted Taylor in prison in Adrian for comment but he chose not to respond.
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