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Philadelphia Inquirer
Monday, June 23, 2003

From old report, 4 new charges

In 1995, an investigator set aside a rape complaint. The subject is now accused of that case and more.


By Craig R. McCoy,
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

Second of two parts.

Roscoe Cofield says some women lie about being raped. He had a joke name for the Philadelphia police sex crimes unit, where he worked for nine years:

"The Lying Bitches Unit," Cofield says he called it.

He was the unit's assigned investigator in 1995 when a 13-year-old girl named Kelly reported that she had been raped.

He wrote off her complaint as something less than a crime.

It stayed that way for five years.

By then, Cofield had left the force. By then, new detectives had been assigned to reopen Kelly's case and about 1,800 others. By then, scandal had forced the squad to stop burying rapes.

Now, the man Kelly accused, Keith Duda, is charged with raping four girls, all when he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. He says he is innocent.

The Duda file reads like a primer on what went wrong in the rape squad: A cop labeled a rape complaint a noncrime. A family says it offered a bloodstained dress as evidence, but police refused it. A girl, disbelieved, began to despair.

In the end, rookie detectives reopened the case and found other accusers - including one who said she was raped after Cofield had closed the case.

But now prosecutors may offer Duda a deal: a guilty plea, and probation, not prison.

Duda, 24, says he is being framed by a rape squad bent on fixing its reputation. "I feel I'm in a little box, locked into a corner of a room somewhere, screaming for all this to stop," the Northeast Philadelphia man said.

He is the last of 62 men scheduled to face trial in the cases reopened since 2000. About half have been convicted. He is also charged with more rapes than anyone else on that list.

For 13-year-old Kelly, the trauma began after a dance.

She lived in the suburbs but had friends in Northeast Philadelphia. That's where she went to a sock hop on March 17, 1995.

When the dance was over, she, her date and another couple - Keith Duda, then 16, and his girlfriend, 15 - hung out behind a nearby tavern. Duda bought a six-pack, Kelly told police.

Parents were to pick up Kelly and her date at 11 p.m.

It was after her date and Duda's girlfriend went inside because of the cold, Kelly said, that Duda raped her, atop a flattened cardboard box. She says he put his hand over her mouth to stop her from screaming.

Before Duda left, Kelly told police, he flipped a business card on her and told her to call when she wanted to have sex again.

The attack was on a Friday night. The girl told her mother on Monday. Her mother said in a recent interview that Kelly "broke down and started crying, 'Mom, I have something to tell you.' "

They called police.

Kelly and her mother both say that they gathered up her underwear, stockings and dress - ripped, bloody and semen-stained - put them in a bag, and took them to investigator Cofield at the sex crimes unit.

They say Cofield refused to accept them.

"He handed it back to me," Kelly's mother said. "He said they couldn't find anything with it."

In a recent interview, Cofield, who quit the department under a cloud in 1998, denied this. He said he remembered little of the case but would never reject evidence.

The old case file shows that Cofield did question Duda, who told the investigator that he and the girl had had consensual sex.

Kelly and her mother insist another strange thing happened when they first went to police.

They say Cofield grew cautious when they said the attacker was named Duda.

"We really can't do a whole lot about this. We have to protect that name,' " Kelly recalled Cofield saying. "You see, his grandfather is running for City Council or commissioner. If anything would come up with his name, he would lose, he would be out the door. And we really can't do that." Kelly has given this same account in court.

Cofield denies this, too. "It never made a difference to me who the accused was," he said last week in an interview.

In 1995, the year of the alleged rape, Republican Joseph J. Duda, then executive director of the city's Republican party, was running for city commissioner, an official who oversees elections.

Keith Duda says he is not related to Joseph. Joseph Duda, now 63 and still a city commissioner, says that if they are related, it is so distant that he has never heard of Keith.

The visit to the sex crimes unit left Kelly and her mother bewildered and upset, they say. They could not believe police would not accept the clothing.

Cofield "made us walk back out with it," Kelly said. "It was like a kick in the teeth."

After that, her mother regularly tried to contact the sex crimes unit. "I kept calling," she said "I wanted some closure for my daughter."

As the years passed, Kelly unraveled, plagued by anger and depression.

Cofield had classified her report as "investigation of person" - the code the rape squad once used to send cases into limbo. As Cofield said in a 1999 interview, "It meant, 'This is a nothing.' "

Last week, he said "there had to be a reason" for him to have used that code for Kelly's case.

"If there hadn't been," he said, "it wouldn't have gotten past my supervisors." Investigative reports then were signed by two supervisors.

Cofield, 59, now retired and living in Florida, left the force in 1998 on medical leave and never rejoined. He said the department had warned him that he faced internal discipline over a 1997 rape case.

In that case, the city paid $450,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a teenager wrongly jailed.

Cofield has said he was overworked and "totally burned out" while serving in the sex crimes unit. Last week, he added that he had learned to doubt many women who complained; he said they sometimes sought to settle scores with former husbands or boyfriends.

"Half the girls that came in, they were lying," he said.

• 

Five years after Kelly first went to the police, two rookie detectives - Francis Erickson, 31, and David C. Thomas, 40 - drove to Kelly's mother's house.

"They said they were sorry," the mother said.

When Kelly realized that the cases was being reopened, her eyes welled up.

She said she cried that day because for years, it seemed, "No one believed me. My mom's the only one who does."

The detectives had another surprise for the family: in Cofield's old case file, they had found the business card that Kelly said her attacker had flipped at her five years earlier.

The family had something to share with police, too: They still had the dress from the dance.

This time the detectives took it as evidence.

The next day, the same detectives contacted Brenda Robinson. Years earlier, she, too, had reported that Duda had raped her when she was 18. But she had waited 11 months to tell police, and her report, too, was labeled "investigation of person."

Robinson, who agreed to be identified in this article, says she and Duda had been dating in 1995 when he insisted on sex. She refused, but he raped her, ignoring her screams, she says.

According to Robinson, police in 1996 seemed uninterested in her account.

"They were rude, like they didn't care, like it didn't happen, like, 'whatever,' " she said.

They told her that her delay in reporting had left them without any options, she said, "And I explained to them, I was scared out of my mind. He beat me up twice."

Duda denies this rape, too, and said he never had struck a girl.

Robinson said she was intent on going to trial. "I want to see him pay," she said. "When I heard of all the other girls... I was even more angry."

Soon, the detectives tracked down two more women who had dated Duda as teens - and who said he had raped them.

One had been his date on the night of the sock hop, in 1995.

This woman said Duda had raped her three times in two months, and that she had kept silent out of fear. During one attack, she said, Duda had put a switchblade to her neck.

In court, she also quoted him as having said after one attack that he "liked seeing me in pain, that it turned him on."

The fourth accuser said that when she was 14, in 1993, she and Duda, then 15, had been kissing in an empty high school auditorium when he attacked her, though she cried for him to stop.

During the attack, she said, a pearl bracelet, a gift from her mother, broke and "flew halfway down the auditorium."

• 

In June 2000, Duda was charged with four rapes.

By then he was 21. Because he had been younger than 18 at the time of the alleged crimes, his lawyers argued that he should be treated as a juvenile, in Family Court. But that court has no jurisdiction over people older than 21 - so he could have been convicted, but no penalty could have been imposed.

Municipal Judge James M. DeLeon agreed to send the case to Family Court.

DeLeon also wrote that witnesses' memories "have indeed faded" in the case, and that it "may be a prime example" of how defendants' rights are eroded when police mess up a case.

It took prosecutors months to get the decision reversed, and to have Duda sent to adult court.

Last week, Kelly said, prosecutors had bad news for her. They called her in to say that they were considering offering Duda a deal: a chance to plead guilty to indecent assault, a misdemeanor, and supervised probation instead of jail.

She said they told her they have a weak case, because back in 1995, "the detectives basically screwed up."

Christopher Mallios, the prosecutor in the case, declined to comment.

Kelly said she might be able accept such an outcome - "if this creep has to stand there and say what he did to us."

Duda said he was determined to vindicate himself. Like the four women, Duda said he, too, was astonished when police came knocking.

Duda said police had drummed up the other complaints against him just to buttress a false report from Kelly.

"When the cops go out and knock on doors of people who never made complaints before, that is a setup," he said.

Though clearly upset, Kelly said she might accept plea negotiations.

Kelly said she had been put through an ordeal, too.

"I cannot believe that this had happened, the injustice," she said. "I just feel like I was neglected by the system."


Contact Craig R. McCoy at cmccoy@philly.com or at 215-854-4821.
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