Forensic DNA Testing: Top 5 Cold Cases for August 2016

Forensic DNA Testing: Top 5 Cold Cases for August 2016

NOTE: The work for the cases spotlighted in this article may or may not have been performed by Sorenson Forensics.

Advances in DNA technology are giving better-than-ever tools to law enforcement as they seek to find answers for cold cases involving murder and/or sexual assault. Time erodes witnesses’
memories, but DNA lives on. DNA forensic testing allows investigators to take a second look at cases that had seemingly reached a dead-end and finally deliver justice for victims and their loved ones.

Direct from newsrooms all over the country and around the world, here are the Top 5 Cold Cases for the last month.

Cold Case #5 (1977, Florida): 75-year-old Arrested for Mistress’s Murder

It’s hard to imagine a family waiting a full 39 years for the wheels of justice to finally roll their way, but that’s exactly what happened to the Pantola family. Following her divorce, Debra Pentola Clark decided to make a fresh start and moved from New York to Florida, where she worked as a nurse. She met 36-year-old Allen Bregman and became the married man’s lover.

Bregman bought a condo for Clark to live in and visited there frequently, telling his wife he was away on business trips. In 1977, Debra Clark was beaten and shot to death, but no one was ever charged with the crime. Six months ago, Miami investigators reopened the case and reached out to Clark’s relatives. New DNA evidence had been gathered and tested, and that evidence linked Bregman to their loved one’s murder. 39 years to the day after Clark’s murder, now 75-year-old Bregman was arrested for the crime and awaits trial.


Cold Case #4 (1991, Pennsylvania): DNA Testing Leads to New Trial

In 1991, 77-year-old Nicetown resident Louise Talley was brutally raped and murdered. Anthony Wright was convicted of the crime thanks largely to his own confessions and the testimony of now-deceased witnesses. He has spent the last 20+ years in prison, but is now getting a new trial. Why? Recent DNA testing results have instead identified the neighborhood crack dealer as the perpetrator – not Wright.

In 2013, Wright claimed that his confession had been coerced and asked for the new DNA testing to be conducted. The tests showed that the sperm inside the victim’s body was not Wright’s, but rather, Ronnie Byrd’s—a drug dealer who passed away in prison in 2013. Once the results came back, a judge ordered a retrial, which is now underway. Proof yet again that DNA convicts, but it’s also possible that testing can exonerate.


Cold Case #3 (2002, Texas): Loving Mother Finally Gets Answers

DNA testing finally gave a mother the answers she’d been anxiously waiting for and never gave up on. It took 14 years, but on August 10 her daughter got justice. In 2002, Cherita Thurman was just 22 years old when exterminators discovered her lifeless body in her Houston apartment. She had been badly beaten, hog-tied, and left alone. The case went cold immediately.

Two years ago, area investigators reopened the case in the hopes that improved DNA technology could finally provide information for this crime. The profile of Craig Porter, arrested on a drug charge, had recently been entered into a database. That search yielded a match to the Cherita Thurman case and Porter was promptly arrested, charged with the crime, tried, and subsequently sentenced to life in prison. There is a measure of closure, but justice is still bittersweet for loved ones left behind. Says Thurman’s mother: “Her spirit as of today is free. I believe that she is free today.”


Cold Case #2 (1980, South Carolina): Suspect Finally Named in Senseless Crime  

It was a uniquely senseless crime: random, violent, and—for the last 36 years—unexplained. In 1980, law enforcement was sent to a dirt path in Beaufort County, South Carolina, where they found an 18-year-old man dead and his underage girlfriend suffering the effects of a sexual assault. The female victim told police that she and her friend were parked on the path when someone simply walked up to the vehicle, fired shots, then robbed and assaulted her. With no witnesses other than the young woman, after a few years, the case went cold.

In 2003, the DNA profile from the sexual-assault kit associated with the case was entered into the Combined DNA Index System. But it would be another 13 years before a match was found. In June 2016, 63-year-old Isaiah Gadson Jr. gave DNA for an unrelated case. Once it was entered into the database, it matched the profile associated with the 1980 crime.

Now charged with murder, criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, and armed robbery, Gadon is awaiting trial.


Cold Case #1 (1996, England): A Continent Away, Rapist Still Cannot Escape Justice

He tried moving to California, but justice reached out across the Atlantic and spanned an entire content to bring Pierre Antoine Bate back to England. This month, the serial rapist was sentenced in the UK to 24 years for a brutal attack against a young mother. In July 1996, the victim awakened to find Bate staring at her as her small children slept in the room next door. He was 22 at the time. He raped her violently and repeatedly for 90 minutes before escaping.

Fast-forward to this year, when British investigators reopened the 1996 cold case and successfully linked Bate to the crime through the use of modern DNA testing. As with a 1995 rape case, Bate was extradited to England again and stood trial for his crime. The sentence for the first crime was 26 months, but for this one he received 24 years. Detective sergeant Karen Bradley said: “Thanks to developments in forensics and our commitment to identify and arrest people no matter how much time has passed, Bate is today facing a long time in prison. He had thought that he wouldn’t get caught, despite moving to the US we brought him back to London to face justice.”


Sorenson Forensics is a leading provider of advanced forensic casework and DNA testing services to federal, state and local crime laboratories. We also assist officers of the court in individual criminal cases and offer comprehensive forensic DNA services to private-industry clients.  Contact us to see what we can do for you, and follow us on Facebook and @ForensicLabPros on Twitter.


“Man Arrested for 1980 Murder and Sexual Assault Cold Case.” WSAVTV. Media General Communications Holdings, LLC., 10 Aug. 2016. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. <>.

O’Mahony, Daniel. “‘Vicious’ Rapist Jailed for 24 Years after Detectives Crack Thornton Heath Cold Case.” Croydon Guardian. N.p., 12 Aug. 2016. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. <>.

Russell, Rucks. “DNA Leads to Conviction in Cold Case Homicide.” KHOU. KHOU-TV, 10 Aug. 2016. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. <>.

Simkovic, Tori. “Arrest in 1980 Cold Case Brings Victim’s Family Relief.” WJCL. Hearst Television, Inc., 11 Aug. 2016. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. <>.

Slobodzian, Joseph A. “DNA-sparked Retrial Begins in 1991 Rape-murder of Nicetown Woman, 77.” Philly-archives. N.p., 12 Aug. 2016. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. <>.

Smith, Katrina. “ | Arrest Made in 39-year-old Cold Case.” WKTV, 05 Aug. 2016. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. <>.



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