Just after midnight on January 23rd, 1995, a 25-year-old woman was walking home from a movie theater in the West Village when a man, whose identity was until recently unknown, robbed and raped her at knifepoint. Then he fled, and wasn't caught for another two decades. Today, a jury convicted Joseph Giardala, 46, in the 1995 rape, a year after he was arrested when his DNA profile matched the one that the FBI had on file for the "John Doe" rapist.
Following her assault in the West Village, the victim had gone immediately to the now-defunct St. Vincent's Hospital, where she underwent a rape kit procedure. But the DNA collected in the rape kit went untested for years: it wasn't until 2001, after the city launched its Rape Kit Backlog project, that the DNA profile was uploaded to the FBI's system, where it didn't match with any other profile. Two years later, the Manhattan District Attorney's office got a grand jury at New York Supreme Court to indict the perpetrator by his DNA profile, so that the statute of limitations on felony rape wouldn't keep him from being convicted, if identified.
Giardala was arraigned on the last May: he'd been arrested in Florida several months earlier for trying to take money from a public fountain and then biting an officer's hand, and his DNA profile was subsequently entered into the FBI's system, where it matched with the 1995 "John Doe" DNA, prosecutors said.
The trial for Giardala lasted a week, and it reportedly took the jury just two hours to decide to convict him in the 1995 assault.
"Had New York City not tackled its own rape kit backlog more than a decade ago, Joseph Giardala may never have faced justice for this brutal attack," Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance said. "Convictions like this underscore the necessity of testing backlogged rape kits, and the power of DNA evidence to solve crimes across state lines...I hope that this conviction provides a sense of closure to this survivor, who took the stand with such bravery more than two decades after her assault, and that our ongoing efforts to test rape kits across the country provide hope to the many survivors nationwide who are still waiting for their cases to be solved."
The victim took the witness stand last week, where she recalled begging for her life. Though in the past two decades Giardala has "changed a bit as far as his hair and his weight," the now-47-year-old woman said, "if I had to look closely, those are the eyes."
Giardala's lawyers didn't respond to a request for comment, but argued at trial that the DNA evidence was too old to be reliable.
Across the country, hundreds of thousands of rape kits sit untested: many jurisdictions don't mandate rape kit testing, and it's generally considered a low priority for law enforcement, according to ENDTHEBACKLOG, a nonprofit working to eliminate the rape kit backlog. Last year, the Manhattan DA gave $38 million in grants to 32 jurisdictions in 20 states across the country to help tackle the national backlog, and since then, 494 DNA profiles have been uploaded to the national database, with 70% of them resulting in a hit, according to the DA's office.
Giardala has been convicted of rape in the first degree, robbery in the first degree, sodomy in the first degree, and two counts of sexual abuse in the first degree. The first three convictions could earn him up to 25 years in prison each, while the latter two could earn him up to 7 years each. He's expected to be sentenced on August 7th.