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St. Petersburg police make arrest 31 years after sexual assault

Anthony Stokes, 56 (middle), was arrested on a charge of armed sexual battery, according to St. Petersburg police, in connection with a sexual assault case that went unsolved for more than 31 years. [St. Petersburg Police Department]
Anthony Stokes, 56 (middle), was arrested on a charge of armed sexual battery, according to St. Petersburg police, in connection with a sexual assault case that went unsolved for more than 31 years. [St. Petersburg Police Department]
Published Jun. 15, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — Police arrested a man Friday in connection with a 31-year-old sexual assault case and believe he's connected to other unsolved cases from decades ago.

Anthony Stokes, 56, faces a charge of armed sexual battery, according to St. Petersburg police. Maj. Shannon Halstead said police are working to link him to other cold cases.

"We know for a fact he is connected to other cases," she said.

The incident took place on Dec. 12, 1986 at about 1:30 a.m. A man broke into the home of a 39-year-old woman, held her at gunpoint and then raped her as she begged him to not shoot her, Halstead said.

The woman moved out of her home and never returned.

No arrest was made at the time, but authorities said they did collect and store DNA evidence from that crime.

In 2006, detectives re-opened the case but didn't get anywhere.

Detective Karen Lofton and civilian investigator Brenda Stevenson reopened the case in 2015. Thanks to technological advancements, they said they were finally able to match it to the evidence collected in the 1986 attack.

Stokes would have been 25 at the time of the attack. The victim, now 71, is grateful that police finally found him.

"She knows there is still more to go in sense of the prosecution," Halstead said during a Friday news conference.

The team that solved the case had help, however. The original investigators — now retired — Detective Don Crotty, Sgt. Katie Connor-Dubina and Assistant Chief Deborah Prine — continued to assist Lofton and Stevenson.

Stokes' DNA was collected sometime after the 1986 assault, but Halstead declined to say exactly when police obtained it or how.

"Because of those open investigations, I'm not going to get into specific detail about how we gathered that DNA but there is no doubt in our mind that it is his DNA," she said.

Investigators are now looking for a link between Stokes and other unsolved crimes that took place in the same area from 1986 to 1987.

"We haven't forgotten," Halstead said about the cold cases. "The men and women who look at these cases are very passionate about finding justice whether it's the next day or 32 years later."

Stokes has a criminal record, according to state records. He was charged with shoplifting and prostitution in 1983 and in 1990 faced a felony charge of drug trafficking. Police believe he eventually moved to Citrus County, but did not say when.

He was being held Friday in the Pinellas County jail in lieu of $100,000 bail. Anyone with information about Stokes or any of these unsolved cases is asked to call St. Petersburg police at (727) 893-7780 or text a tip and SPPD to TIP-411.