Murder of Imette St. Guillen
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|Imette St. Guillen|
|Born||Imette Carmella St. Guillen
March 2, 1981
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
|Died||February 25, 2006
Brooklyn, New York, USA
|Known for||Murder Victim|
|Height||5 ft 2 in (1.57 m)|
|Weight||110 pounds (50 kg)|
|Parent(s)||Seimundo Guillen and Maureen St. Hillaire|
Imette Carmella St. Guillen (March 2, 1981 – February 25, 2006) was an American graduate student of Venezuelan and French Canadian descent who was brutally raped and murdered. She was studying criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City at the time of her death. Her gruesome murder, which captured national attention along with the later murder of Jennifer Moore, was to have a profound impact on New York City's nightlife, including the passage of legislation.
- 1 Life and murder
- 2 Arrest
- 3 Aftermath
- 4 Littlejohn's pre-trial and trial in previous abduction
- 5 Pre-trial motions in St. Guillen's murder
- 6 Trial
- 7 Civil lawsuits
- 8 Legacy
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Life and murder
Imette St. Guillen was born in Boston, Massachusetts to Seimundo Guillen and Maureen St. Hilaire. Her last name–and that of her elder sister– was a combination of her parents' surnames. Seimundo Guillen, a Venezuelan immigrant, died of AIDS when Imette was 9 years old. Her mother later remarried.
St. Guillen graduated from Boston Latin School in 1999 and moved to Washington, D.C. to attend George Washington University. Like her father, St. Guillen studied criminal justice. She graduated magna cum laude in 2003 and enrolled at John Jay College of Criminal Justice to pursue a master's degree. Although she originally intended to study Forensic psychology, she changed her major to criminal justice. She was ranked in the top 5% of her class, and was scheduled to graduate in May 2006.
After a pre-celebration of her upcoming birthday with her mother and sister, held in Florida, St. Guillen took a plane back to her apartment in Manhattan; later on, February 24, 2006, St. Guillen met with her best friend, Claire Higgins, to continue celebrating her birthday, which was only a few days away. Around 3:30 a.m. on February 25, the two women argued over whether to go home. Higgins had left; later, in a phone call at 3:50 a.m., St. Guillen assured Higgins that she would be leaving for home shortly. She was last seen at 4:00 a.m at the bar named 'The Falls'.
Seventeen hours after St. Guillen spoke with her friend, Brooklyn police received an anonymous phone call alerting them to a dead body, which they soon identified as that of St. Guillen. Her body was found nude, wrapped in a comforter. Several broken fingernails indicated that she had fought her attacker. Her hands and feet were tied, a sock had been shoved down her throat, and her head was wrapped in packing tape. Some of her hair had been cut off. An autopsy revealed that she had been beaten and sexually assaulted before being asphyxiated. According to forensic psychologist Dr. Stephanie Stolinsky, the killer "tried to dehumanize her completely. ... Whenever you hide someone's face, it means that you don't want to see them as a human being. You want to pretend that they're just an object".
The murder case of Imette St. Guillen was then handled by the Special Victims Squad.
Darryl Littlejohn, one of two bouncers at The Falls where St. Guillen was seen the night she was murdered, was charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping, and unlawful imprisonment. DNA that was proven to be Littlejohn's, most likely caused from a nosebleed, was found on the plastic ties that were used to bind St. Guillen's hands. Littlejohn was asked to escort St. Guillen out of The Falls just before closing, and was later seen talking to St. Guillen in front of the bar before her disappearance. His basement apartment in Queens and vehicles were searched by police and crime scene investigators. Carpet fibers found in Littlejohn's home were a match to fibers discovered on the adhesive tape that St. Guillen's face was wrapped with. Additional evidence that Littlejohn was in the area at the time, date, and place where St. Guillen was killed and dumped was found using cell phone tower records which "indicated movement from his home to near the spot in Brooklyn where Ms. St. Guillen's body was found." Due to the nature of St. Guillen's murder and other high-profile cases, The Village Voice suggested that the Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) was devoting more of its time to tracing the cellular phones of detectives. The article discussed efforts to uncover leaks to the media in these cases. A source that communicated with The Village Voice said that police in St. Guillen's murder case had received "punitive 'letters of instruction' in their files and were docked days of pay."
Littlejohn, an ex-convict, had spent more than 12 years in prison for drug possession and robbery charges. He was on parole at the time of his employment at The Falls and, by working at the bar, was violating the curfew of his parole agreement. Some blame was placed on his parole officer. Since 2006, he has been held at Rikers Island prison and he was initially held by authorities because of the parole violation. He was later charged with one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder and then held for the murder of St. Guillen. During that time, Littlejohn had been tried and convicted in the abduction attempt of a Queens woman on October 19, 2005. The woman was abducted off the street and held by Littlejohn in his van but managed to escape, leaving behind DNA which was later identified. This abduction attempt was later linked to St. Guillen's case when the woman saw the suspected van on TV news reports.
Littlejohn's initial defense attorney was Kevin O'Donnell, but O'Donnell was later dismissed when Littlejohn complained about his work. Littlejohn's later lawyer Joyce David, known for her book What You Should Know If You're Accused of a Crime filed a 36-page legal brief alleging a "wide-ranging conspiracy" involving Littlejohn and the St. Guillen murder and claiming that Littlejohn was "being framed to protect members of a rich and powerful family who have the connections and the motive to see that he gets convicted of killing St. Guillen." Rudy Giuliani was "named in the conspiracy," supposedly because the "Dorrians are part of Giuliani's family." Littlejohn started his criminal career at age 12, according to prosecutors, at first stealing a 70-year-old woman's purse with the help of a friend. Prosecutors in the 2005 abduction are seeking court permission to discuss Littlejohn's crimes, and prosecutor Frank DeGaetano said that the crimes "fairly reflect his character"; Littlejohn's lawyer wants discussion of his past banned from the trial.
Within days after the revelation of the alleged lying of bar manager Daniel Dorrian in St. Guillen's disappearance and murder, a New York City writer named Jeff Ragsdale organized a group of people through Craigslist to start a demonstration in front of The Falls bar. Their aim was to inform passers-by and others of St. Guillen's murder by conversations, using flyers and other handouts, and to bring pressure on the New York State Liquor Authority to have The Falls bar closed and its liquor license permanently revoked. The demonstrations lasted a few months, and around June 2006 The Falls bar lost its liquor license.
The Pioneer bar, which was first associated with the disappearance of St. Guillen, was and is unrelated to her murder. However, the bar suffered negative publicity, and news reports showed images of the bar's facade in their coverage of the murder. The bar had later changed its name to the R Bar in response to the negative publicity and it is still doing business.
Long after the murder trial's conclusion, Joyce David has filed a libel lawsuit against New York City, saying that her reputation was slandered when it was discovered she was under an ethics probe. David was exonerated, but the ethics probe delayed monies she was owed during her two years of work on the murder case and she was evicted from her Brooklyn office because of an inability to pay the rent on her business location. She currently wants $42,225 for her case work and $13 million in damages.
Littlejohn's pre-trial and trial in previous abduction
Littlejohn went on trial for prior abduction case stemming from 2005, which was held before the murder trial for St. Guillen, raising concerns that St. Guillen's murder case was not strong enough. The quality of evidence had been called into question as the reasoning for the delay of the murder trial. Prosecution, however, had stated that they are prepared to proceed with the trial.
In January 2009, Littlejohn was convicted of kidnapping a college student in October 2005. The victim testified that he had approached her while dressed as a police officer, then handcuffed her and forced her into a vehicle. She escaped. Litllejohn was sentenced to 25 years-to-life in prison.
Pre-trial motions in St. Guillen's murder
Littlejohn's defense attorney Joyce David challenged the autopsy findings as well as the search warrants giving police the authority to search Littlejohn's van, his apartment and to investigate his cell phone records. Prosecutors were given permission by Justice Abraham Gerges to admit evidence from Littlejohn's other crimes.
Opening arguments were given on Monday, May 11, 2009. Prosecution headed by Kenneth Taub laid out the case that Littlejohn was a sex fiend, and according to the Daily News story, Taub said that "He did the same thing to two other women three months before" and "Until this case, he got away with it." They briefly described the circumstantial evidence against Littlejohn. Littlejohn used glasses which some defense lawyers have described as the "nerd defense, which is a tactic used to make felons and other criminals appear less menacing to the jury during a trial."
Defense headed by Joyce David said that the case was "racially charged frame-up by police eager to close a blockbuster case" according to the News. David said ""He's a black man with a long criminal record." and "Who's going to care about him?" David then pointed her finger at bartender Daniel Dorrian of The Falls bar and said that "Darryl Littlejohn is being framed to protect Danny Dorrian".
Clair Higgins, St. Guillen's best friend, was among the first to take the witness stand. She described the time she had shared with St. Guillen on the night of her disappearance.
Daniel Dorrian, manager of the bar where St. Guillen was last seen, indicated during the Trial that Littlejohn and St. Guillen had "a screaming match" and the article quoted him as saying ""It might have been a loud conversation. "By the end ... it came out she was screaming." According to the Daily News "Dorrian insisted he didn't lie when he initially stonewalled cops about St. Guillen's kidnapping and murder." However, he later admitted telling police that he did not remember St. Guillen being in The Falls bar. Dorrian attributed his initial statements to a fear of backlash against his bar; two decades earlier, his father's bar had experienced poor publicity and lawsuits after a patron was murdered.
Defense lawyers suggested that Dorrian might have been the real killer. She managed to extract testimony from Dorrian where he admitted that he had informed police that he was "banged up" after a quarrel with his girlfriend some days after St. Guillen's body was found, however, NYPD never investigated him as a possible suspect. He said, "I don't believe I had any bruises," the manager said. "It was just a figure of speech." David then suggested sometime during the trial that St. Guillen might have returned to The Falls bar and "hooked up with Dorrian".
Littlejohn's ex-girlfriend, Sandra Smith, testified on Thursday, May 14, the fourth day of the trial. She said that he asked her to lie about his using her Chrysler Sebring to see his ailing mother in a Queens nursing home after St. Guillen's death. "He called me and said if anyone calls, [to] say he had my car," however she informed police that he did not use the vehicle; and police suspect Littlejohn used another van to abduct and sexually molest St. Guillen.
Using cell phone tower records, detectives in the murder case determined that Littlejohn was in the area of Fountain Avenue where St. Guillen's body had been found.
Nicholas Petraco, a retired NYPD forensics evidence expert, testified that fibers from two fur coats and a rabbit collared leather jacket gathered by Police at Littlejohn's home were found in his van, on tape binding St. Guillen, and on a quilt used to wrap her battered body. He indicated that fiber analysis is not as good as DNA evidence.
A representative of the medical examiner's office testified that DNA of Littlejohn was found on a snow brush found alongside St. Guillen's body. Hairs found on a bedspread used to wrap St. Guillen's body belonged to Littlejohn's mother; besides that of St. Guillen, hairs were also identified as coming from eight other people.
The zip-ties found in the Windstar used to bind St. Guillen were presented to the court, and Medical examiner Ewelina Bajda said that traces of Littlejohn's blood were found in the locking mechanism of one of them.
Prosecutors called several witnesses to testify in previous cases in which Littlejohn was alleged to have abducted young women. The victim in the attack in which he was convicted described how she recognized Littlejohn's van during TV news coverage of St. Guillen's murder and testified that Littlejohn had tied her up in his van and drove off with her during his kidnapping attempt. The district attorney who prosecuted him in that case, testified as to the evidence that had led to his conviction. Her testimony was allowed by Justice Gerges in order to prove " ...the identity of the perpetrator in this case” however, this with the justice’s warning that jurors should not take Woodard’s testimony as proof of Mr. Littlejohn’s “propensity” to commit such crimes. Littlejohn's lawyer Joyce B. David admitted that Ms. Woodard’s testimony hurt their case. Prosecutors later called a Japanese woman, also a student, who had been attacked four months before St. Guillen's death in a manner similar to that of the case for which Littlejohn was convicted. According to one Daily News story, she also had her face taped "almost exactly like St. Guillen's" David, who objected to both Woodard's and the Japanese woman's testimonies, verbally attacked the second victim's inability to identify Littlejohn in a lineup, stating: "My client has scars on his face and a tattoo that's very noticeable under his eye and that's something that one would expect that she would have noticed and had them put either in the sketch or at least mentioned it". While Littlejohn had not been charged in the Japanese student's attack, prosecutors insisted there was “compelling proof” that he was her attacker based on the DNA evidence from the T-shirt and the manner in which she was attacked, similar to Woodard and St. Guillen.
The defense continued to suggest that the DNA-testing of evidence that the city-hired firm, Bode Technology, may have been contaminated in order to frame Littlejohn and also to clear bar manager Danny Dorrian. The Prosecution criticized the Defense’s argument that police framed Littlejohn to protect his former employer Dorrian. Prosecutor Kenneth Taub said to the jury: "I can't even begin to describe how ridiculous that is". David in reply said the evidence may suggest her client dumped the body, it did not prove that Littlejohn killed her and said: "There is no proof at all, not a scintilla of proof, that Ms. St. Guillen had been to my client's home". David also said: "Darryl Littlejohn was the solution to all their problems: solving the city's biggest crime at the time, protecting Danny Dorrian and protecting Rudy Giuliani from another scandal while he was running for President," the lawyer argued.
After questioning two detectives about the 25-hour search for evidence in Littlejohn’s residence, concluding that none of the more than 50 items confiscated were linked to St. Guillen, and DNA testing had failed to yield a match, Defense rested their case. Prosecutors had “presented proof that Littlejohn's blood, tissue and DNA were found on the plastic ties that were used to bind St. Guillen's hands.” The six men / six women jury took less than seven hours to convict Littlejohn of murdering Imette St. Guillen and found him guilty of first degree murder in her murder. One juror, Marian Mallero, said: "The DNA said a lot about it. They gave us evidence and it was obvious"; and, "He's guilty, that's all I'm going to say." Another juror said, "All the evidence pointed to the defendant," despite the defense case that Littlejohn was railroaded.
Before the jurors' verdict, David said to CNN that she believed in the innocence of her client, and indicated again that Littlejohn was framed and another was a likely suspect saying: "He was a convenient scapegoat who has a long criminal record". Afterwards, David said: "We're going to appeal. We're disappointed. I'm hoping this gives the family of the victim some closure. But I think that the wrong man was convicted."
Judge Abraham G. Gerges made the following statements about the case concerning Littlejohn and St. Guillen, “I hope that the conclusion of these proceedings today will provide you with some small measure of solace” speaking to St. Guillen’s relatives. Judge Gerges then directed comments to and about Littlejohn, calling him an unrepentant "predator" who should never taste freedom again. The Judge also paid tribute to St. Guillen describing her as a ‘promising woman who never deserved to die’ saying, "If there were truly justice in this world, I would have the power to bring her back to you," addressing Maureen and Alejandra, who cried in the courtroom. Continuing, he further said, "To my great sorrow, that is not possible." "This defendant is not fit to remain in civilized society." Gerges also noted, "While the defendant committed this horrific crime, what is also so disturbing about this case is the indifference of the people employed at the bar that night. This court cannot speak to the legal implications of serving someone who is intoxicated, and indeed that issue may be before another judge, but this court can decry the complete indifference and inhumanity of the workers there that night. They were all focused on finishing their shift and leaving. Not one of those people spared a thought to the wisdom of sending an intoxicated young woman out into the deserted streets of Manhattan at 4 a.m. If only one of them had the common decency to call a taxi, we might not be here in this courtroom today."
Littlejohn is to serve his sentence consecutively with his previous 25-year-to-life term for kidnapping a Queens woman.
David indicated after the sentencing that she would file a notice of appeal and indicated that Littlejohn remained silent, maintaining he was framed to protect Dorrian, and that instead of making a statement and David quoted him saying, “there was really nothing for him to say. It’s hard for him to say he’s sorry for something he didn’t do,” she said.
St. Guillen's family settled a confidential suit brought against The Falls bar in 2007.
In early 2008, St. Guillen's mother brought a civil action against the federal government for US$200 million for their failure to keep track of Littlejohn. The suit names the Department of Justice, and the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services Program as defendants. The suit was dismissed in May 2010 by Court of Claims Judge Faviola A. Soto, quoting an NYS Appeals decision that reaffirmed the standard that, “an agency of government is not liable for the negligent performance of a governmental function unless there existed ‘a special duty to the injured person, in contrast to a general duty owed to the public.’” In March 2011, the St. Guillen family finally settled with the Federal government for $130,000. Tracking software for post-release offenders would be named after St. Guillen.
On the third anniversary of St. Guillen's death, her mother filed suit against the bounty hunter school, US Recovery Bureau Inc, accusing the proprietors, Ralph Rios and Robert Neves, of giving the accused, Darryl Littlejohn, fake badges that enabled him to get hired as a bouncer.
The St. Guillen family has another lawsuit which is pending: a wrongful-death lawsuit against Darryl Littlejohn.
According to New York's NightLife Association, since St. Guillen's death, crime rates around bars and clubs in New York City have decreased. Her death was one of several high-profile incidents of women murdered after leaving a nightclub. The combined media scrutiny resulted in new and modified laws governing nightclub operations.
Soon after authorities realized that a bouncer may have been the perpetrator, nightclub owners and local politicians met to discuss ways to improve nightlife safety. In February 2007, New York City enacted a law requiring security cameras at the entrances and exits of the 200 nightclubs that held a cabaret license. City officials were also empowered to close any business that hired an unlicensed bouncer.[Note 1]
New York City club owners also agreed to voluntary guidelines which encourage the use of scanning machines to record the identification of their patrons and also encourage screening patrons for weapons. The guidelines also provide for more care in dealing with intoxicated female patrons who are alone.
The following month, Boston enacted a similar law, requiring all nightclub and bar owners to conduct criminal background checks on their employees. At the same time, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino signed an executive order authorizing the cancellation of liquor licenses granted to anyone found to have hired a violent felon.
A joint fundraising effort by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, the Association for a Better New York and the New York Daily News resulted in the Imette St. Guillen Scholarship for second-year students at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Past recipients of the scholarship have included Joanne Vespe, Kevin Barnes-Ceeney, Shea Donato, and Negar Farshbaf. Another scholarship in her name was endowed at Boston Latin School. St. Guillen's family also has created the Spirit of Imette Foundation, intended to support education for underprivileged children.
The murder has been fictionalized in the novel Killer Heat, by Linda Fairstein, and in Angel's Tip by Alafair Burke. This book deals with "a female NYPD detective who cracks the case of a beautiful student brutally slain after she exits a club."
New York band Interpol wrote a song titled "Pioneer to the Falls", which is believed to reference St. Guillen's murder. The title of the song most likely refers to the journey that St. Guillen made, walking on Spring Street from the Pioneer bar to The Falls bar.
- Murder of Romona Moore
- Nightlife legislation of the United States
- Imette is also memorialized by Periel Aschenbrand in "In Memory of Imette", an article in A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and A Prayer. This collection of writings, edited by Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler, is part of annual V-Day performances that raise funds to stop violence against women and girls worldwide.
- In the state of New York, bouncers must be licensed by the New York Department of State. To receive a license, the applicant must undergo fingerprinting and a background check and must pass a one-day class. (Jones, Charisse, April 4, 2009)
- "The Spirit of Imette Foundation - About Imette". Retrieved 2009-01-09.
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