MIAMI – The man accused of covering the faces of his rape victims with pillowcases in South Florida in the 1980s was awaiting the outcome of the trial in Miami-Dade in 1983.
Miami-Dade County Judge Daryl E. Trawick, who is presiding over the case, asked the jury to return to court Wednesday morning to hear closing arguments after prosecutors refuted and the defense rested Tuesday.
Robert Koehler, whom detectives identified as a “pillowcase rapist” using DNA technology, appeared in court as a 63-year-old grandfather who uses a wheelchair. He testified under oath Monday that he was the victim of a twisted criminal conspiracy in which his DNA was collected in order to frame him.
“He questioned why the police picked him,” Assistant District Attorney Laura Adams said of her need to disprove Koehler’s story.
Adams was quick to add testimony from a police officer involved in the 2019 arrest of Koehler’s son, a criminologist who joined MDPD in 2008, and a former supervisor of the MDPD contingency team. Adams said they all played a role in identifying Koehler as a suspect.
The victim in the Miami-Dade sexual battery case is a 65-year-old woman who prosecutors said Koehler raped in 1983 when she was 25 and was showering in her apartment.
Adams and Del Valle also interviewed two defense witnesses on forensics. Before DNA technology, the first detectives in the cases collected shoe marks and knew that the serial rapist had a rare subset of the O blood type.
“We had to rely on a blood typing system that our serology department at the crime lab was using,” said retired Miami-Dade Sgt. David Simmons, who was lead detective on some cases. “It was sophisticated, but not nearly as accurate or precise as DNA.”
Edna Buchanan, the legendary crime reporter for the Miami Herald, covered the search for the serial rapist in 1985. After winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1986, Buchanan wrote about it again in “The corpse had a familiar face‘, released in 1987 when the task force to catch the rapist disbanded.
“Scientists at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, created a five-page psychological profile,” Buchanan said wrote in her book.
The case went cold until decades later, when established DNA databases provided other detectives with solid leads.
The 25-year-old victim’s rape kit in the Miami-Dade case was eventually added to the case, according to the warrant FBI Combined DNA Indexing System. Koehler had been convicted of sexual molestation in Palm Beach in 1991, so he was a registered sex offender, but he was not included in the CODIS database, which began in 1990.
When Koehler’s son was arrested for a domestic violence felony in 2019 and he submitted a DNA sample for a criminal database, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement found a family match and notified police departments, prosecutors said. Detectives put everything together and followed Koehler to collect his DNA.
“The defendant’s DNA matched,” Adams said in court.
The evidence has since linked Koehler to more than two dozen sexual assaults. Decades after his crimes and with a warrant in hand, detectives reported finding a “dungeon in progress” and safes containing “mementos” of his victims at Koehler’s Palm Bay home during his 2020 arrest.
“I really thought that unless it was DNA, it kind of wasn’t going to happen,” Buchanan said after his arrest.
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https://www.local10.com/news/local/2023/01/25/watch-live-jury-returns-to-courtroom-in-miami-dade-trial-of-accused-pillowcase-rapist/ The jury returns for final statements in the Miami-Dade trial of accused ‘pillowcase rapist’