Seven months after Pauline McCoy, 87, was murdered at home in what investigators suspect was also a sexual assault, another elderly Augusta woman was attacked.
Sheriff’s Investigator Patrick Young quickly developed Jimmy Lee Riley as a suspect in that rape, but he would avoid being connected to McCoy’s murder for more than a quarter of a century.
Last month, he met justice.
Now 53, Riley was convicted of murder in the slaying of McCoy, whose body was found on her living room floor Dec. 20, 1986.
The Augusta Chronicle filed an open records request to review Riley’s other cases, including the July 1987 rape.
“The rape was just terrible,” Young said. He wasn’t surprised when Riley was indicted in McCoy’s murder last year. That Riley got away with it for so many years was due to luck more than cunning, Young said.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation fingerprint expert who compared a set of Riley’s prints to a bloody fingerprint found at McCoy’s home in the 1980s filed a report saying they didn’t match. Local investigators, however, pegged Riley as a suspect because he lived nearby.
Like McCoy, the rape victim was a senior citizen who lived alone near Riley’s home. Both women were attacked in the middle of the night by an intruder. In McCoy’s case, Riley crawled through a bathroom window. In the 1987 rape, he broke in through the back door by breaking the chain lock.
The woman testified that her air conditioner was broken at her home and she had a large fan running in her bedroom around 1 a.m.. Just as in McCoy’s case, she was attacked in the early hours of a Sunday.
The woman testified that she was awakened by a man on top of her in bed who clamped a hand over her mouth, according to a transcript of the hearing.
That she didn’t have a chance to fight might be the reason she lived, Young said.
Investigators suspect McCoy did try to defend herself, but she was stabbed at least 15 times, beaten and kicked to such a degree that her injuries were comparable to those suffered in a traffic collision, according to the testimony of a medical examiner last month.
Riley had been seen near McCoy’s home by neighbors, and neighbors of the rape victim told her that they had seen Riley watching her place and that he had been seen masturbating outside his home.
Riley was in jail on an indecent exposure charge in August 1987 when he agreed to talk with Young about the elderly woman’s rape. He claimed she wanted to have sex with him.
After Riley was charged with rape, his parole was revoked. He had been sentenced to 15 years in prison for three burglaries – including the sheriff’s office substation in south Augusta – in 1983.
The rape case passed through several prosecutors. Riley was found competent to stand trial in October 1989. With the prosecutor’s recommendation for a five-year prison sentence to run at the same time as the burglary sentence, Riley pleaded guilty to rape.
Though The Chronicle could not find a public record showing when Riley was released from prison again, even if he served every day of the 15-year sentence, he would have been released in March 1998.
In October 1998, the GBI began taking DNA samples of prison inmates who had been convicted of sex crimes. If Riley was released before the DNA collection began, his profile wouldn’t have been in the system.
In cases of victims attacked by strangers, DNA can often be the only evidence to identify a suspect, said Charlotte Murton, a crisis specialist at the Augusta Rape Crisis center.
McCoy’s case wasn’t classified as a rape because no semen was found at the scene. In 1986, DNA testing wasn’t available.
Rapists don’t always leave biological samples behind, Murton said, and victims don’t always report the crimes
After Riley’s release, he wasn’t charged with a felony offense until his 2012 arrest for McCoy’s murder through a “cold case” investigation.
Investigator Ashley Pletcher had pulled McCoy’s file and thought a good place to start was to eliminate the old list of suspects. Investigator Tom Johnson agreed to run fingerprint comparisons. He was the first to find a match to Riley.
As the now-retired GBI expert testified last month, he couldn’t match Riley’s print in 1986 because he didn’t have a complete print to compare to the one found at McCoy’s home. It wasn’t until 2012, when he had a complete set of prints, that he determined Riley was a match.