CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A Charlotte man has been charged with raping a woman in a cemetery 13 years ago.
He is the latest person arrested by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Cold Case Rape Unit, which has matched more than 60 rape kits to possible suspects this year alone.
Veteran crime reporter Mark Becker got a look behind the scenes at the unit, whose work begins and ends with the victims.
Loshica Morris was only 17 years old in July 1995. She was walking home along North Tryon Street after her first day on a new job when a man grabbed her from behind and held a knife to her back.
“I knew I felt something in my back,” Morris told Channel 9. “And he was like, ‘If you just go with what I'm saying you won't get hurt.’ That's when I was forced to go to the back of the building, and I just did what he was telling me to do.”
Morris managed to break away and call police, but her attacker had disappeared. The case went cold for more than 20 years.
But not forgotten.
When CMPD started their cold case unit in 2006, they re-opened thousands of cases, and Morris’s was one of them.
Sergeant Darrell Price helped start what is still one of the few cold case rape units in the country. It now includes three investigators and a part-time prosecutor working on a backlog of cases going back as many as 40 years.
“We have roughly 3,000-3,500 cases,” Price told Channel 9.
With the help of federal grants, the unit has sent off more than 1,400 rape kits -- including Morris’s -- for DNA testing to outside labs. Late last year, Detective Carol Owens received a notification on her computer.
“At first, you think it's going to be great news, from my perspective,” she said.
The DNA finally provided a name and a face to Morris’s attacker: Christopher McNear, a registered sex offender who'd been convicted of sexually assaulting a child three years after Morris was raped.
But before police could arrest McNear, the cold case unit had some homework to do.
“I found the original officer who responded to the scene where she was sexually assaulted,” said prosecutor Anna Greene.
Greene tracked down the key witnesses. For her, the case became personal.
“I remember being 17 and having my first job,” Greene said. “And I can picture myself in her shoes, if you will.”
With the witnesses on board, Owens was finally able to call Morris and tell her the news.
“It was like, ‘Whew.’ Like everything just came out of me,” Morris told Channel 9. “I was shocked. I was amazed. But I was happy at the same time.”
“I think there was a little bit of shock at first,” Owens said. “And then there was no hesitation as to what she wanted to do.”
Last month, Morris was in the courtroom when McNear pleaded guilty to the attack that had haunted her for more than 20 years.
He will spend at least 16 years in prison.
(McNear in court)
Morris said she is finally free from her own private nightmare.
“I have been in prison for a long time and didn't really realize it,” she said. “But I realize it now, after being there today, and seeing the results. I feel like I'm released from prison and can move forward with my life now.”
Morris will always be grateful for the detectives who didn't forget her, and the hundreds of others who are still waiting for answers.
“That meant so much that they believed in it, and they stayed on it,” Morris said. “So I thank them for it because they really didn't give hope up.”
“This is still going on for Ms. Morris, so I think it's really important work that we're able to go back and address these cases and address these defendants and hold them accountable,” Green told Eyewitness News.
Eyewitness News does not usually identify rape victims, but the same courage and perseverance that kept Morris going for the last 24 years gave her the strength to share her story.
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