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Prosecutors hope to link kidnapping with slaying of prostitute

More than a year ago, St. Petersburg police identified James Greenfield as the prime suspect in the 1995 slayings of three prostitutes. So far prosecutors have been able to charge him only with kidnapping a prostitute who said she escaped from him unharmed.

Now, prosecutors have filed court papers saying they hope to prove the kidnapping charge by bringing in evidence showing it is similar to another crime _ one of the killings.

The papers filed by Assistant State Attorney Bob Lewis say the kidnapping of Yvonda Johnson sometime in July 1995 has features that are similar to the slaying of Emily Cummings, 34, whose nude body was found in an alley in the 1700 block of Beach Drive NE on July 20, 1995.

Lewis said Wednesday he could not comment on what those similarities are. He would not comment on whether fiber evidence links the two crimes, although a fiber expert is listed as a prosecution witness.

But Lewis did say that there was evidence Cummings had been bound. Johnson told police Greenfield made her strip and tied her up with belts.

The first of the three slain prostitutes was Doris Katherine Nelson, 27, a mentally retarded woman whose body was found May 7, 1995, in a trash bin on Belcher Road.

Then, in July, Cummings' body was discovered by a landscaper working at the home of former City Council member Ron Mason. A month later the body of Zelda Pierce, 31, was found in a trash bin in the 1100 block of 24th Avenue N.

Detectives consider the three slayings linked, according to documents they submitted to a state council on violent crime last year.

Investigators learned that Greenfield's car was towed to a St. Petersburg garage from the neighborhood where Cummings' body was discovered. Mechanics said there was a strong odor in it. Greenfield told them a cat had died in the car.

Police seized the car, hoping to find trace evidence of body fluids, hairs or other fibers that might connect Greenfield to any of the slain women. They also spent days searching the house Greenfield and his girlfriend had rented on 18th Avenue S.

Prosecutors have said they have been trying to build a murder case against Greenfield but lack the evidence to indict him. In the meantime, though, he went to prison on charges of stealing his girlfriend's car, trying to break into her parent's house and pawning power tools that belonged to a friend.

Only days before Greenfield was to be released from prison, prosecutors accused him of kidnapping Johnson, successfully keeping him behind bars pending trial on the new charge.

Johnson told St. Petersburg police Detective Damien Schmidt that sometime in July 1995 Greenfield picked her up in his car while she was working as a prostitute near 22nd Avenue S and Fourth Street S.

She said Greenfield locked the door and ordered her to undress, so she took off everything but her shoes. She said he took her to a house in the vicinity of Third Street S and tied her up in the bedroom. But when he left for a few minutes, she said, she freed herself, grabbed her clothes and fled.

Greenfield's attorney, Karen McHugh, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Greenfield is slated for trial on April 15.