Arrest made in cold rape case

October 13, 2009 8:47:36 PM PDT
Authorities made an arrest in a nearly 20-year-old case where an eight-year-old girl was brutally attacked and left for dead in a field, unable to cry out for help because her throat had been slashed. [WATCH IT: Victim Jennifer Schuett speaks about the arrest]
[READ IT: The FBI affidavit]

Investigators say Dennis Earl Bradford, 40, was arrested in the old case after DNA was a match. He was picked up in Little Rock, Arkansas, according to police. Bradford used to live in Dickinson.

Jennifer Schuett is now 27 years old. She was just eight years old when a man broke into her mother's apartment, abducted, raped her and left her for dead in August 1990.

"Once inside the apartment, the abductor grabbed her from her bed, picked her up and took her to his car. Eventually this little girl was taken to a field," Dickinson Police Chief Ron Morales said. "This individual sexually assaulted her, violently cutting her throat from one side to the other and then left her in that field to die."

"I went 'Jennifer, Jennifer,' you know to look for her and there was no answer, so I came in the room and I found the window open, the curtains drawn open, the light on but she was gone," Jennifer's mother Elaine Schuett said. "There was no sign of her. She was just gone."

In 1990 Elaine spoke to Eyewitness News about finding Jennifer's empty room. All the while, police say her daughter lay in a nearby field until several children playing found her some 14 hours later.

"It shocked our close knit community," Chief Morales recalled. "This little eight-year-old girl defied all the odds. Through her strength and determination and with the help of nearby citizens who found her some 14 hours later, she miraculously survived this brutal attack."

Chief Morales says despite the victim's persistence there were few leads in the case until a year and a half ago. That's when officers sent several pieces of clothing found near Jennifer to the FBI for DNA analysis. Investigators say advanced technology was able to pick up DNA belonging to Dennis Bradford, a man who was already in their system for previous crimes.

Bradford was convicted of kidnapping in 1996 in Arkansas and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He had been accused of raping the woman he kidnapped, and although he was never convicted of rape, his DNA was on file from the investigation.

Galveston County District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk explained, "It was without question one of those moments that all of us in law enforcement live for, when you realize that your passion and your unyielding efforts to bring justice, or the opportunity for justice, have finally come to fruition."

Although rape victims are generally not identified, Schuett has chosen to make her name and face public. She says the phone call that an arrest was made brought closure to her 19 year long effort to pursue justice in her case. She hopes his arrest helps inspire victims of other violent crimes.

"I hope that my case will remain as a reminder to all victims of violent crime to never give up hope in seeking justice, no matter how long it may take, or how hard it may be," Schuett said.

Bradford has been charged with attempted capital murder.

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