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2007 Gasparilla rape case in doubt

TAMPA — She took a cab. She didn't take a cab.

Her rapist had a gap in his front teeth. He didn't have a gap in his front teeth.

Tampa police released a report Wednesday saying inconsistencies in a victim's statements and lack of physical evidence have led them to stop actively investigating the case of a woman who said she was raped as she left the 2007 Gasparilla parade.

The woman, then a 21-year-old University of South Florida student, reported being grabbed and sexually assaulted off of Howard Avenue on Jan. 27, 2007, as she walked away from the parade at Bayshore Boulevard.

That the case isn't closed, but it has been classified as inactive, said Tampa police Cpl. Pete Charbonneau.

Virlyn B. Moore III, an attorney for the victim, characterized the report as nothing but misleading propaganda created because the Police Department was embarrassed by the case following national media attention.

As the woman was giving her statement to police, an officer found two outstanding warrants on her for failure to pay restitution on juvenile charges. She was taken to jail for two nights.

The woman's story captured national attention after she claimed that a nurse at the jail refused to let her ingest the second dose of a morning-after pill designed to prevent pregnancy — a claim jail officials denied.

The report released by Tampa police Wednesday outlines details in the rape case that investigators say prevent them from moving forward without a new lead presenting itself.

A nurse examiner found no injuries on the victim. And a Florida Department of Law Enforcement analysis of evidence found no semen, the report said.

An FDLE analyst who inspected the woman's clothes also found no evidence of dirt, sand or grass stains, despite statements from the woman that she was dragged into a sandy area where she stayed for a while after being raped.

The woman initially told police that she was walking north on Howard Avenue from Bayshore Boulevard toward the University of Tampa campus when she asked several police officers to give her a ride.

She said police — of which there were 35 in the area — told her they were too busy to abandon their posts. And, she said, her call to 1-800-Free411 for a taxi was routed to a company that couldn't give her a ride.

While walking, she said, she was pulled into an area between 508 and 510 S Howard Ave., where she was assaulted.

The area, detectives wrote, is sandy and the bushes are less than 3 feet tall.

After the rape, the woman reported walking 21/2 miles to her vehicle at N Brevard Avenue and W North B Street.

Along the way, she called a friend and told her of the rape. But other statements by the friend to police indicated the woman may have taken a cab back to UT.

Phone records show no call to 1-800-Free411 from the woman, police say. They do show that she received three calls, placed 20 and checked her voice mail during the time she said she was walking after leaving the parade. Detectives wondered about the woman's time line of events, which showed she would have received one call and placed two during the time of the sexual assault.

The woman never notified emergency personnel about the rape. She talked to police only after her friend called Tampa Fire Rescue.

When the victim was shown photos of possible suspects who met her description of a man with crooked teeth or a gap between the top front teeth, she did not identify any of them.

But she then told police of another possible suspect she had seen on television. That suspect, police said, had straight teeth and denied ever having been to a Gasparilla event.

When detectives tried to get the victim to clear up the discrepancies, she referred all questions to Moore. The last direct contact police had with the victim was April 3, 2007, according to the police report.

Moore said Wednesday that he intends to move forward with further legal action against Tampa police. The Venice attorney filed a lawsuit in March of 2007, seeking a release of public records showing police were making a good faith effort to solve his client's case. A judge dismissed the case in December after months passed without any new filings.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

2007 Gasparilla rape case in doubt 01/14/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 15, 2009 7:04am]
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