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DNA genealogy testing leads to break in decades-old cold case rape in Cleveland

Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 10:43 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 12, 2021 at 7:36 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office just announced a 1999 cold case rape in Cleveland has been solved, thanks to an identification of the suspect made through DNA technology.

Bart Mercurio, 50, was charged with one count of Rape, one count of Kidnapping and one count of Aggravated Burglary.

The case was solved by the office’s G.O.L.D. Unit-- Genetic Operations Linking DNA.

This is a break in one of CCPO’s 20 “Most Wanted” profiles including serial offenders and stranger sexual assaults.

“I am extremely proud of the dedicated work by all involved that led to this arrest,” said Prosecutor O’Malley. “Although time may have passed, justice will not. It has been a long 22 years for this victim, but we hope today’s news will bring her some comfort in knowing this individual is finally behind bars.”

A 33-year-old woman left her house to go for a walk in Tremont on May 6, 1999, the prosecutor’s office said.

When she got home, prosecutors said Mercurio was waiting for her inside and grabbed her, striking her several times until she lost consciousness.

They said he sexually assaulted her and ran away.

The victim called police and sought help at a hospital, where a sexual assault kit was collected.

But the suspect was not found.

Years later in 2013, the prosecutor’s office created the Sexual Assault Kit Task Force (SAKTF) to investigate leads from new testing of previously unsubmitted rape kits.

Rape kits from across Ohio went untested from 1993 to 2011.

This is where CCPO began to look at the victim’s case again.

Her rape kit was tested by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, BCI.

But the suspect’s DNA did not match anyone in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which is the FBI’s national DNA database.

The prosecutor’s office still took action, taking the suspect’s DNA profile and indicting it as “John Doe #133.”

They did this so the statute of limitations did not run out.

Last October, the G.O.L.D. Unit launched after SAKTF received grants from the U.S. Department of Justice.

19 News covered the story here.

The G.O.L.D. Unit contracted with Gene By Gene for a pilot project.

The project included genealogical searches for 20 DNA profiles connected to cold case sexual assaults, including the DNA profile for “John Doe #133.”

This is a break in one of Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office 20 “Most Wanted” profiles...
This is a break in one of Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office 20 “Most Wanted” profiles including serial offenders and stranger sexual assaults.(Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office)

Prosecutors said DNA analysts and investigative genetic genealogists connected “John Doe #133′s” DNA profile to Bart Mercurio.

Investigators obtained Mercurio’s DNA, sent it to BCI to be tested and tests confirmed that the DNA in the victim’s rape kit matched.

CCPO investigators, the Elyria Police Department, and the U.S. Marshals arrested Mercurio at his home in Elyria on July 9.

He is behind bars at the Cuyahoga County Jail and will be arraigned on July 13.

“The cases aren’t over, it’s not a dead end. We can continue to try to work and work and try to solve these unsolved crimes on behalf of the victims,” Prosecutor Michael O’Malley told 19 News.

“It’s gratifying to know that’s not the end of the road anymore. There is this new technique we can use now,” said Mary Weston, supervisor of the Cold Case Unit.

“I imagine there are people out there who think they totally got away with this. And I hope that we can change that story,” she said.

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