updated: Mar. 12, 2006, 8:30 p.m.
Here we go again. Every day brings a new version of what happened after 4:00 a.m. at the Falls bar in SoHo on Feb. 25th. It's not hard to imagine one more. That Saturday morning is the last time Imette St. Guillen the 24-year old graduate student was seen alive. The NY Post has found a homeless man who claims to have seen the bar's bouncer Darryl Littlejohn giving a ride to Ms. St. Guillen that morning:
"Don't worry, I'll take you home."
Those are the chilling words allegedly uttered by the ex-con suspect in Imette St. Guillen's murder before he loaded her into a van the morning she disappeared, according to a "very, very good" witness who has come forward to police.
Miguel Angel Cruz - a 47-year-old homeless man who was sleeping in a park across the street from The Falls in SoHo - told police he saw suspect Darryl Littlejohn, 41, drive a blue van up to the bar, go inside and then lead the grad-school beauty out and into the vehicle.
"He was saying, 'Don't worry, I'll take you home.' He put her in the van in the front seat and they left," Cruz said. "She left like he was giving her a ride."
Cruz was first found by a Post reporter, who put him in contact with detectives who then interviewed him and deemed his story to be highly credible.
The fact that Cruz told detectives about distinctive jewelry that Imette was wearing - a detail that investigators have not revealed publicly makes him credible.
The St. Guillen murder case has become a jigsaw puzzle of clues, conflicting witness accounts, substantial circumstantial evidence, and so far, most importantly - missing DNA evidence. If this case happened ten years ago Darryl Littlejohn would probably be charged with murdering St. Guillen by now. But the "CSI effect" has created a situation where juries want the DNA evidence in order to convict someone of a violent crime like rape or murder.
[Programs like CSI foster the] mistaken notion that criminal science is fast and infallible and always gets its man. That's affecting the way lawyers prepare their cases, as well as the expectations that police and the public place on real crime labs. Real crime-scene investigators say that because of the programs, people often have unrealistic ideas of what criminal science can deliver.
Prosecutors also have complaints: They say the shows can make it more difficult for them to win convictions in the large majority of cases in which scientific evidence is irrelevant or absent.
"The lesson that both sides can agree on is, what's on TV does seep into the minds of jurors," says Paul Walsh, chief prosecutor in New Bedford, Mass., and president of the National District Attorneys Association. "Jurors are going to have information, or what they think is information, in mind. That's the new state of affairs."
Lawyers and judges say the CSI effect has become a phenomenon in courthouses across the nation:
That's clearly what is happening in this high profile case. Savvy criminals know about DNA and criminal science. Police now suspect that some of Ms. Guillen's hair was cut off because the murderer was worried about leaving fingerprints on some packing tape. Police found alcohol swabs in Mr. Littlejohn's house. The rape cases where Littlejohn was a person of interest shared an m.o.-
The attacker made great efforts to destroy physical evidence by taking his victims' clothes, forcing them to shower or clean up with alcohol wipes and gargle with mouthwash.
Littlejohn was not ID'd in two separate six-person lineups for the rape cases. But the point is that criminals certainly understand the "CSI effect" regarding DNA and they have changed their criminal behavior accordingly.
Juries want their job made easy. Serve up a defendant on a silver platter of DNA evidence and they'll convict him. But, don't bring the silver platter of DNA evidence in a high profile case and "if the DNA don't 'fit' the jury might acquit."
Using circumstanial evidence does not necessarily mean that a case is weak! Here's the lawyer's favorite anecdote to illustrate the definition of circumstantial evidence:
Just before going to bed on a cold winter's night, you look out of your window. You see that there is no snow on the ground outside. Upon waking up the next morning, you notice that the ground outside is covered by 4 to 6 inches of snow. You did not actually see any snow falling. However, you can reasonably infer, from what you have observed, that it did, in fact, snow while you were sleeping.
You observed two facts: First, there was no snow on the ground outside before you fell asleep. Second, there was 4 to 6 inches of snow on the ground outside when you awoke that morning. These facts afford a basis for a reasonable inference that there was snowfall overnight while you were sleeping.
It is not simply possible that it had snowed. It is, indeed, very probable that it had snowed, to say the least.
Many points are proven in courts of law through such circumstantial evidence.
Darryl Littlejohn is covered in deep pile of circumstantial snow.
Some additional issues regarding this new witness, Mr. Curz, and the events he reported the night Darryl Littlejohn drove away from The Falls bar with Ms. St. Guillen. The NY Post story reported:
The van then pulled out, going south on Lafayette Street and turning left onto Canal Street, he [Mr. Cruz] said.
Layfayette is a one-way street headed south. It is four blocks down to Canal Street. It seems possible on this empty street at around 4:05 a.m. that someone watching a vehicle's tail lights could see that far. The three cross-streets before Canal are all one-way: Broome St. goes west (right), Grand St. goes east (left), and Howard St. goes west.
Turning left onto Canal Street points Mr. Littlejohn's van directly toward the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn. Also, going east on Canal St. takes a vehicle through Chinatown on it's way to the Manhattan Bridge. Ms. St. Guillen's home is on Manhattan's upper West Side. There is no logical reason a driver goes down to Canal Street and turns left (east) if they're headed toward the upper West Side.
Additionally, the Manhattan Bridge is not as direct a route to Mr. Littlejohn's house (153-26 121st Ave.) in Queens as the Williamsburg Bridge. It's 4:05 a.m. in the morning so there should be no traffic problems on any route east from The Falls to Mr. Littlejohn's house in Queens.
If Mr. Cruz's statement is correct and Littlejohn did "turn left" on Canal Street toward the Manhattan Bridge. That would seem to open up a large new vein of security camera's that might help police. Canal Street between Layfayette and the Manhattan Bridge must have dozens of security cameras in the numerous banks, jewelry stores, and other commercial establishments along the way. Is it possible that one of them caught a picture of Mr. Littlejohn's van?
Also there is the question about security cameras at the Manhattan Bridge itself helping the investigation. All New York City Bridges and Tunnels are reportedly monitored by close circuit TV. Do Manhattan Bridge secuity tapes of the night in question exist? Have they been examined?
Reportedly the lower roadway level of the Manhattan Bridge is closed for major renovations until April 2008. So only the upper level has traffic.
What makes this security camera question more difficult to answer is the week's delay by the The Falls bartender, Danny Dorrian, in coming forward. Often security tapes are only kept for a week or two and then recycled. All the evidence that might have been there might now be gone. Time is critical in any investigation.
Finally, why didn't the NYPD locate Mr. Cruz? They are using lots of people on this case. Why does the NY Post find this key witness? Where are the cops on beat? Don't they know where homeless people are bedding down and who some of them are? How many times has the "homeless person as witness" angle been used on New York City cop TV shows? Has the "CSI Effect" blinded cops to old fashioned police work? We know the NYPD crime scene investigators are tearing the pipes out of Littlejohn's house, but what about the old fashioned canvassing for witnesses part of criminal investigations. Oh yeah and what about the bridge cams? Based on their track record so far you can't assume NYPD is covering all the bases in this case.
2nd UPDATE: Cops find a homeless women who was in the park with Mr. Cruz who confirms his story. The New York Daily News - 2nd witness links Imette to van:
Both Cruz and a homeless woman, Lorraine House, 50, were in a small park about 25 to 30 yards away from where St. Guillen apparently got into a van after leaving The Falls bar on Lafayette St.
House told the Daily News on Wednesday that she saw a man who looked like Littlejohn get out of a van, walk into the pub and return with a woman fitting St. Guillen's description.
"She was staggering a little bit and he was holding her from behind, by the elbows," House said.
Darryl Littlejohn to be indicted for murder of Imette St. Guillen [TJN, Mar. 12. 2006]
Darryl Littlejohn: Murder & Now Serial Rapist Suspect [TJN, Mar. 8, 2006]
NYPD builds case against Darryl Littlejohn for St. Guillen murder [TJN, Mar. 7, 2006]
Ex-con bouncer, Darryl Littlejohn, prime suspect in Imette St. Guillen Murder [TJN, Mar.6, 2006]
Imette St. Guillen - Where was she grabbed? Was it the bouncer? [TJN, Mar. 5, 2006]
Imette St. Guillen - Brutal NYC Student Rape, Murder Mystery [TJN, Mar. 1, 2006]