TAMPA — The trial of a man charged with raping and murdering a woman 27 years ago may come down to DNA evidence.
During opening statements Tuesday morning in Hillsborough County Court, a prosecutor told jurors that decades-old DNA collected at the scene matches that of George Shrader.
"He thought he got away with it and he did for 25 years," Scott Harmon said. "It's his DNA that revealed him as the killer that he is."
Shrader, 46, is charged with first-degree murder and sexual battery of Sharon Lorraine Moss. Officials found her body Jan. 27, 1986, in southern Hillsborough County.
The 23-year-old was last seen the night before, Super Bowl Sunday, at several bars in the area near Broadway Avenue and Orient Road, Harmon said. Detectives later discovered Shrader had been in one of the same bars on the same night as Moss.
When deputies discovered her body the next morning in a wooded area near Tampa Bay, she was wearing only a T-shirt and had 32 stab wounds to her chest, neck and back, Harmon said.
A trail of blood led away from her body. Crime scene technicians gathered soil samples and took swabs from Moss' body, but the investigation slowed after just a few months.
The case remained cold until 2010 when authorities arrested Shrader for battering his wife.
Jail officials processed his DNA during booking and sent the information to a national database used by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Amid millions of DNA profiles, Shrader's matched the samples of blood and semen found where Moss was killed.
Detectives later sent the DNA samples to a private, out-of-state laboratory for further testing, Harmon said. And Shrader submitted to a cheek swab.
Inconsistencies between the two testing facilities, though, show the DNA evidence is unreliable, said Shrader's attorney Robert Fraser.
The FDLE test revealed a partial profile for Shrader, while the private lab showed an exact hit.
"This case comes down to DNA," Fraser said Tuesday. "There is no evidence of fingerprints implicating George Shrader. They have found no vehicle George Shrader was driving at the time. They have found no evidence linking George Shrader to the murder other than DNA."
"The DNA is problematic," Fraser said. "DNA from the two labs should be exactly the same. It isn't."
Further, the Sheriff's Office diagram of the crime scene seems to be missing, Fraser said. And the crime scene technician, Linda Watts, can't recall details such as the amount of blood drops leading away from Moss' body.
On the witness stand Tuesday, when asked whether the crime scene diagram had been lost, Watts said: "I don't know where it is. I don't know if it's lost or I don't know."
Charles Diggs, a retired medical examiner who presided over the case in 1986, said Moss was stabbed several times on the front of her body first. Wounds on her back were lethal, though there is indication she was already dead, Diggs said in a videotaped deposition played in court Tuesday.
The trial is expected to last until Thursday. It is not clear whether Shrader will take the witness stand.
One detail jurors may not hear this week is that Moss' death occurred just hours before Shrader, who was out on bail, appeared in court to be sentenced for a second-degree murder conviction for killing his uncle in a bar fight.
Two hours after deputies found Moss' body, Shrader, then 19, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his uncle's murder. He served only 4 1/2 years.
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.