TAMPA — The day care worker ran into the bathroom, shut the door and armed herself with a spray can in case the rapist returned. Bruised, scraped and naked, she braced for more, listening for footsteps between cries for help.
In minutes, she would be outside, shielded by a teacher until a deputy could clothe her in a raincoat.
She waited 10 months for an arrest and three years for a trial.
On Tuesday, she finally faced her accused attacker, Kendrick Morris, in a Hillsborough County court room.
At the time of the 2007 attack, he was 15 and she was 62.
Prosecutors say Morris left behind DNA evidence that eventually linked him to the subsequent beating and rape of a Bloomingdale library patron. That case is set for trial Sept. 27.
DNA evidence is key in the state's two cases against Morris. His attorneys tried Tuesday to cast doubt upon it.
Rocky Brancato, one of Morris' two public defenders, told jurors that some of the evidence in the day care rape had been contaminated.
"That's the only evidence they're going to have in this case, the DNA," he said. "If there's something wrong with it, you're going to ask yourself, 'Is this really a good barometer for the truth or can it not be trusted?' "
The DNA evidence is especially important because the day care center rape victim can't identify her attacker's face. He wore a ski mask. She didn't know him.
But she remembers the attack, unlike the Bloomingdale library victim, who suffered strokes that left her unable to speak or see.
The day care worker rape took place on the morning of June 28, 2007, in the east Hillsborough County neighborhood of Clair-Mel.
The woman, now retired, had walked a half-mile in darkness, as always, to open the Children's Lighthouse Day Care Center and start fixing breakfast before the children arrived.
She had changed her morning route, she testified, because a few days earlier, she brushed past a hooded man in a nearby field and felt unsafe. She didn't see his face. And then a man had tried to get into the day care before it opened. She had turned him away, again without getting a look at his face.
On the day of the attack, she unlocked the door. As she opened it to enter, she felt someone pushing it from behind her. She turned and saw a man wearing a ski mask. He was taller than she. He wore gloves, and in one hand, he held a knife.
At this point in her testimony, she began to sob. The jury was ushered out and she was escorted to a back room to compose herself. It took her five minutes. She emerged and continued.
"Get down," she remembers the man told her.
She tried. Her lunch bag fell out of her arm and a change purse dropped to the ground. But her body wasn't moving fast enough. The attacker scooped her back up.
"Go ahead," he told her.
"Where?" she asked.
He ordered her to an empty back room, the toddler classroom.
"Please don't hurt me," she remembered saying.
She couldn't say for sure how long it lasted. But she testified about all the things he did.
In time, they heard knocking.
He put his hand over her mouth. She moved so that she could talk.
"That's the other teacher," she said.
"The other teacher?" He seemed surprised.
He got up and ran toward the door.
Outside, teacher Diane Brown had been knocking, Brown testified.
Brown started looking through windows. She kept knocking on the door. She saw the man in the mask staring at her through the window.
"We were just standing looking at each other," she said.
She ran to a neighbor's house to call for help.
The victim climbed to her knees and hurried into a bathroom. She started screaming, then stopped to listen, then screamed some more.
"Help me!" she cried.
Finally, she heard a response — a man's voice, a deputy.
It was 10 months later when another woman cried out, this time into a cell phone outside the Bloomingdale Regional Public Library.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354.