I learned about this case while I was writing my book about the NYPD’s Cold Case Squad and it always enraged me. On top of the horrible fact that some guy raped and murdered a mother and daughter—a 9 year old child—there was this: DNA from a vaginal swab of Joi Little had been misplaced.
But this is not the fact that enrages me. Cold case detectives kept at it and found the tube in 2003 (the evidence was given a Manhattan storage number even though it was a Bronx case, so it was sitting in a box at the Manhattan Property Clerk). They took the evidence to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner who tested it and entered into the DNA database. They got a hit. Robert Fleming.
So they had the man who had raped and sodomized a 9 year old child and her mother. They had the man who had hog tied mother and child, their feet tied to each other and in such a way so that their legs were left wide open, the daughter bleeding out from a torn cervix. (This is how Joi Little’s grandmother found her and her mother.)
They had this animal, but there wasn’t a damn thing they could do about it. At this point they only had evidence that Robert Fleming had raped Joi Little and the statute of limitations for rape had passed.
One of the justifications given for a statute of limitations for rape is that years later it’s difficult to determine whether or not the sex was consensual. I can’t imagine what the argument can be for a statute of limitations involving sex with a child. It doesn’t matter how many years go by, there is absolutely no defense for having sex with a 9 year old, it is never consensual.
Apparently Fleming was ultimately charged with sexually-motivated murder, so while they couldn’t charge him with rape, the evidence for the rape became part of the murder case they successfully built.
Because today, Robert Fleming was sentenced to 25 years to life for each murder, or 50 years to life. Before hearing his sentence Robert Fleming panicked. He started threatening to sue his lawyer, the judge, and finally cold case Detective Wendell Stradford, who Fleming had confessed to. Fleming was removed from the courtroom.
We don’t know the order of events. We don’t know for instance, if Joi watched as Robert Fleming raped, sodomized and murdered her mother. Maybe Joi was already dead by this time, and it was her mother who got to watch as her daughter was raped, sodomized and murdered, only to endure the very same thing herself and next to the dead body of her little girl. Any way you order what happened it’s horrible.
After the family made their statement, a more composed Robert Fleming returned to give his statement. He never apologized to the family. When he saw that tv cameras were in the courtroom he said, “I’m glad this is going to be on TV, so everyone can see me standing tall.” Yeah right, that’s what people will see. When I heard about Fleming’s statements I immediately thought of the recent bizarre statements made by Ariel Castro at his sentencing. And we know how Ariel Castro ended up.
A lot of people worked on this case, and I am only mentioning the tiniest fraction of them, but cold case Detective Emma Principe initially had the case, then Detective Margie Yee, followed by Detective Carl (aka Chuck) Harrison, and finally Detective Wendell Stradford, who, together with Bronx ADA Nancy Borko, built a strong case, brought it to court, and put Robert Fleming away.
Great work all. These two words seem so inadequate for what you have done, but: thank you.
Another Update: Some very good points from retired cold case commander Vito Spano about where we were with DNA analysis in 1988 and how it relates to this case.
(The picture above is a school photograph of Joi Little.)