TAMPA — Yes, Damien Marshall had sex with the two Tampa women who were found dead just weeks apart last fall, his defense attorney told a Hillsborough County circuit judge late Friday afternoon.
And yes, Marshall himself admitted he had sex with those women mere hours before their bodies would be found in vacant homes in east Tampa — caked in blood and mutilated by stab wounds.
“But having sex with somebody does not mean he, in fact, killed somebody, especially with this many unknowns,” attorney Carolyn Schlemmer argued during the 40-year-old Tampa man’s pretrial detention hearing.
Still, what investigators do know about the crimes was enough for Hillsborough Circuit Judge Michelle Sisco to order Marshall be held without bond until he is tried in court on two first-degree murder charges: one for the death of Linda Harris, 54, and the other for the death of Jenny DeLeon, a 25-year-old transgender Guatemalan woman.
“There is a substantial probability this defendant committed these crimes,” Sisco said. “The circumstances of these crimes indicate a disregard for the safety of the community, and there are no conditions of release reasonably sufficient to protect the community from the risk of physical harm.”
The first to be found was the body of Linda Harris, discovered just before 8 a.m. Sept. 27 by a construction crew doing last-minute checks inside a vacant house at 1806 E. Sligh Avenue before the building was set to be demolished.
Then, about five weeks later, the body of Jenny DeLeon was found at yet another vacant home in the Sulphur Springs area, this one undergoing a remodel at 8510 N. 9th Street.
The county medical examiner’s office determined both women died from multiple stab wounds to their jugular and carotid arteries. In Friday’s hearing, Tampa homicide Detective Rachel Cholnik said Harris was stabbed at least 58 times.
Investigators didn’t connect Marshall to either killing until the Tampa Police Department’s facial recognition software flagged him as a possible match to a man seen on surveillance video walking with DeLeon near the vacant house where she was later killed and his probation officer identified him. Marshall also was identified by an unnamed witness who told investigators he awoke to screaming from the house next door and saw Marshall standing over DeLeon’s body.
Marshall cooperated with investigators and admitted he had slept with both women hours before their deaths, his attorney said. He also warned he likely wasn’t the only one.
Both Harris and DeLeon were homeless and well-known prostitutes among the community of transients traveling across the Tampa region, according to court records. In DeLeon’s case, Cholnik said, Marshall volunteered that he paid her $3 for oral sex, the detective said. When the service “wasn’t satisfactory,” he paid another $10 to “hit it from behind.”
And while forensic investigators found samples of Marshall’s DNA on both women’s bodies, Cholnik confirmed during Friday’s hearing that there were far more DNA samples taken from their bodies that investigators still know little about at this time.
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Between the two women, forensic testing found multiple DNA samples too corrupted to be tied to any one individual, as well as samples clearly coming from as many as six different people, she said.
But no one else questioned by Tampa detectives was seen on surveillance cameras with the women in the hours before their deaths. No one else told investigators they knew both women had been stabbed to death — information never made public in the media or available case reports, police said. And when investigators searched apartments and conducted interviews with those involved, only Marshall was found in possession of a plaid blanket that tested positive for DeLeon’s blood and a Mickey Mouse belt splattered with Harris’ blood, tests showed.
Cholnik said investigators struggled for weeks to find a lead in Harris’ case. Then, on Nov. 2, Tampa police got an eerily similar 911 call about DeLeon’s death. New details about their investigation were made public earlier this week, when Marshall’s arrest report was filed with the court.
Tampa Fire Rescue was the first to arrive, pronouncing DeLeon dead at the scene. Their report noted the significant amount of blood splattered throughout the house, indicating a struggle between the woman and her attacker. They also noted a set of bloody footprints leading away from the back patio.
According to the report, the unidentified witness who discovered DeLeon and called 911 told detectives he was asleep at a house next door when he was woken by the sounds of a woman screaming. As he came to, he was able to make out the woman’s voice saying, “Please stop, it hurts,” court records said, and he realized he could be hearing the sounds of a woman being raped. The man told investigators he immediately got dressed and ran outside with a crowbar as quickly as he could, where he saw Marshall standing over DeLeon’s body.
According to the arrest report, Marshall turned toward the man and told him, “Cracker, this has nothing to do with you. That ho owes me an ounce of heroin. That ho owed me an ounce of crack.”
The witness said he told Marshall he needed to leave or he would hit Marshall with the crowbar, and then watched as Marshall grabbed his clothing and a gold-colored sling bag from the back patio, all the while saying to himself “I got to get my phone.”
The witness didn’t have a working phone of his own, so he went to a friend’s house and called 911, the report said.
Marshall has been in jail since Nov. 16 on charges including failing to report a change of address as a sex offender and failing to report a change of vehicle as a sex offender, police said, and first-degree murder charges now have been added. His next court date has yet to be set.