DALLAS – Police on Wednesday arrested a convicted child molester whose fingerprint was found at the scene of the 1990 sexual assault of a 5-year-old girl — a crime for which a deaf man was wrongly convicted.
Police and investigators from the Dallas County District Attorney's office took Robert Warterfield into custody as a suspect in a different sexual assault of a child.
The DA's office said in a statement that its forensics lab confirmed a DNA match between Warterfield and evidence left at the scene of an unsolved 1989 sexual assault of a 9-year-old Dallas girl. Warterfield will be charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child, said Jamille Bradfield, a spokeswoman for DA Craig Watkins.
Warterfield's attorney did not immediately respond to a message Wednesday seeking comment. The suspect's father did not comment when reached by telephone.
Authorities say they connected Warterfield to the 1989 attack while investigating the sexual assault that led to the 1993 wrongful conviction of Stephen Brodie, who was exonerated last month after spending 10 years behind bars. It was one of about a dozen sexual assaults of young girls terrorizing the north Dallas area in the early 1990s.
During Brodie's hearing in September, Warterfield took the stand and invoked the Fifth Amendment right to not provide testimony that might incriminate himself.
Watkins' Conviction Integrity Unit, which examines possible innocence cases, asked the forensics lab to conduct DNA tests on the other "North Dallas Rapist" cases from two decades ago, Bradfield said. The testing confirmed a match between Warterfield and the 1989 case, she said.
Brodie could not be reached for comment Wednesday, as he was off in Oklahoma riding horses, said his father, J. Steve Brodie.
"Stephen has already made a decision that as far as he's concerned, he has forgiven Mr. Warterfield," Steve Brodie said. "My feelings are not so much for Stephen or for me. I am thinking of the anguish and heartache for the Warterfield family, and that's about it."
Brodie was arrested in 1991 for stealing quarters out of a vending machine. While he was being questioned about that crime, police began asking about the unsolved rape of the 5-year-old girl a year earlier.
There was no physical evidence linking Brodie to the crime. In addition, police questioned Brodie, who has been deaf since childhood, for several hours without an interpreter.
Brodie eventually confessed and pleaded guilty, receiving a five-year sentence. He now says he felt pressured to confess and did not understand his rights. After serving his five years, Brodie went back to prison twice for a total of five more years for failing to register as a sex offender.
When Brodie was arrested and convicted, Richardson police knew a fingerprint, found on the window through which the perpetrator entered the victim's home, did not match Brodie or anyone living there.
A year after Brodie's conviction, police learned the fingerprint belonged to Warterfield, who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl in 1994. Warterfield also was suspected by Dallas police in the dozen unsolved sexual assaults and attempted assaults of young girls in the area.
Richardson police, however, discounted the Warterfield print as coincidence, saying Warterfield "somehow touched the frame when he was wandering around in the neighborhood four days prior to this offense," according to police records. He was never arrested in that case.
In a 1994 appeal, Brodie's attorney cited the fingerprint on the window. But a judge denied the appeal, ruling that Brodie's confession outweighed the fingerprint evidence.
In April 1994, Warterfield pleaded guilty to the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl and received 10 years probation. He eventually was sentenced to 10 years in prison for violating his probation. Until the Wednesday arrest, he was free and working for a yard service in Stephenville, according to the Texas sex offender registry.