St. Pete police say DNA links Ohio inmate to homeless woman's 2005 murder

Sara Lynn Wineski, 49, was found raped and strangled in St. Petersburg on May 22, 2005.
Sara Lynn Wineski, 49, was found raped and strangled in St. Petersburg on May 22, 2005.
Published October 10 2013
Updated October 11 2013

ST. PETERSBURG — Police on Thursday said they finally caught the man they believe killed a homeless woman eight years ago.

Raymond Samuels, 31, is expected to be booked into the Pinellas County Jail soon. He is being extradited from Ohio, where he has been serving a prison sentence since 2006 for attempted murder and kidnapping.

Local authorities say Samuels is responsible for the death of Sara Lynn Wineski, whose body was found underneath a deck at the then-Ronald McDonald House at 702 Eighth Ave. S on May 22, 2005. The 49-year-old was strangled and raped.

A resident reported hearing screams the night before Wineski's body was found.

A couple of years later, police matched DNA from the scene to Samuels, a transient with no previous arrests in Florida who lived in the area for less than two months around the time of Wineski's murder.

Wineski moved here from Sarasota just weeks before her death, police said. By the time the detectives got the DNA hit, Samuels already was in prison in Ohio, where he was sentenced in 2006 to 29 years for robbing and attacking an elderly couple.

But local prosecutors weren't comfortable charging Samuels right then, police said. Additional testing a few years later confirmed Samuels' DNA was not only at the scene, but also on the belt used to strangle Wineski, said police Maj. Mike Kovacsev.

"There were no witnesses so we had to let the forensic evidence speak for itself," Kovacsev said. "The family was understanding. It's not like we had someone out on the street. He was in custody so he wasn't going anywhere"

Records show a Pinellas County grand jury indicted Samuels in 2010. It was not clear why it took three years to get him here. A prosecutor on the case could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Candice Cheesman, Wineski's daughter, said she doesn't want her mom, who had four children and four grandchildren, to be a voiceless victim.

"She was not living a life to be proud of at the time of her death. As a family, we are not in denial about where she was in life, but it is important to us that people know that her life was not a waste and not something anyone had the right to take from her. She was not always homeless and alone," Cheesman wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

"We have wonderful memories of her and her murderer stole the hope that we all carried in our hearts that we would have the chance to make more memories with her someday."