Murder of Imette St. Guillen
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Imette St. Guillen
Imette Carmella St. Guillen
March 2, 1981
|Died||February 25, 2006 (aged 24)|
Brooklyn, New York, USA
|Known for||Murder Victim|
|Height||5 ft 2 in (1.57 m)|
|Parent(s)||Seimundo Guillen and Maureen St. Hillaire|
Imette Carmella St. Guillen (March 2, 1981 – February 25, 2006) was an American graduate student who was brutally raped and murdered in New York City. She was studying criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. Her murder captured national attention; together with the later murder of Jennifer Moore, it was a catalyst for passage of legislation to require background checks of bouncers in bars and a security plan for nightclubs. A bouncer was convicted of St. Guillen's murder.
- 1 Life and murder
- 2 Arrest
- 3 License for The Falls bar
- 4 Littlejohn's pre-trial and trial in previous abduction
- 5 Trial for St. Guillen's murder
- 6 Trial
- 7 Civil lawsuits
- 8 Legacy
- 9 Representation in other media
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Life and murder
Imette St. Guillen was born in Boston, Massachusetts to Seimundo Guillen and Maureen St. Hilaire. Her surname–and that of her elder sister– was a combination of their parents' surnames. Their mother was French Canadian. Their father, Seimundo Guillen, a Venezuelan immigrant, died of AIDS when Imette was nine years old. Her widowed 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 originally intending to study forensic psychology, St. Guillen changed her major to criminal justice. Ranked in the top 5% of her class, she was scheduled to graduate in May 2006.
After celebrating her upcoming birthday with her mother and sister in Florida, St. Guillen took a plane back to New York. On February 24, 2006, St. Guillen met with her best friend Claire Higgins to continue celebrating her birthday, a few days away. Out at a nightclub around 3:30 a.m. on February 25, the two women argued over whether to go home. Higgins left; later, in a 3:50 a.m. phone call, St. Guillen assured Higgins that she would soon be leaving for home. She was last seen at 4:00 a.m at a 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 woman's body. They soon identified it as St. Guillen. Her body was nude, wrapped in a comforter. Her broken fingernails showed she fought against 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".
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 in blood on the plastic ties 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 the young woman in front of the bar. 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 wrapping St. Guillen's face. 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. These "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 late hours at the bar, was violating the curfew of his parole agreement. Some blame was placed on his parole officer. Since 2006, Littlejohn has been held at Rikers Island prison; 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 for the death of St. Guillen.
During that time, Littlejohn was tried and convicted in the attempted abduction of a Queens woman on October 19, 2005. He abducted her from the street and held her in his van, but she managed to escape. She left DNA evidence in the van, which was identified after a search. This abduction attempt was later linked to St. Guillen's case, as the woman called police after seeing the suspected van on TV news reports.
Littlejohn's initial defense attorney was Kevin O'Donnell, but he was dismissed after Littlejohn complained about his work. Littlejohn's second lawyer, Joyce David, was known for her book What You Should Know If You're Accused of a Crime.
She filed a 36-page legal brief on her defendant's behalf alleging a "wide-ranging conspiracy" related to Littlejohn and the St. Guillen murder. She claimed that he 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;" they managed the Falls Bar and other nightclubs.
According to prosecutors, Littlejohn started his criminal career at age 12, first stealing a 70-year-old woman's purse with the help of a friend. Prosecutors in the 2005 abduction sought court permission to discuss Littlejohn's crimes, and prosecutor Frank DeGaetano said that the crimes "fairly reflect his character." Littlejohn's lawyer wanted discussion of his past banned from the trial.
License for The Falls bar
During the investigation, there were revelations that The Falls bar manager, Daniel Dorrian, had allegedly lied about elements of St. Guillen's disappearance and murder. Jeff Ragsdale, a New York City writer, organized a group of people through Craigslist to start a protest demonstration in front of The Falls bar. Their goal was to inform passers-by and others of St. Guillen's murder by a bar bouncer 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 was associated with the disappearance of St. Guillen that night, but it is not related to her murder. But, the bar suffered negative publicity, and news reports showed images of its facade in coverage of the murder. The bar later changed its name to the R Bar and it is still in business.
Littlejohn's pre-trial and trial in previous abduction
Littlejohn went on trial in 2007 for the 2005 abduction, which was held before the murder trial for St. Guillen. Observers were concerned that this suggested that St. Guillen's murder case was not strong enough. Prosecution, however, stated that they were prepared to proceed with the murder 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, handcuffed her, and forced her into a vehicle. She escaped. Littlejohn was sentenced to 25 years-to-life in prison.
Trial for 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 May 11, 2009. Prosecution headed by Kenneth Taub laid out the case that Littlejohn was a sex fiend. According to the Daily News, Taub said that "He [Littlejohn] 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 wore glasses in the courtroom. Some defense lawyers have described this as the "nerd defense, which is a tactic used to make felons and other criminals appear less menacing to the jury during a trial."
The defense was headed by Joyce David, who said that the case was a "racially charged frame-up by police eager to close a blockbuster case," according to the Daily News. David said, "He's a black man with a long criminal record," and "Who's going to care about him?" David pointed her finger at bartender Daniel Dorrian of The Falls bar and said that "Darryl Littlejohn is being framed to protect Danny Dorrian".
Claire 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" that night. The New York Daily News 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." But, 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 suffered poor publicity and lawsuits after a patron was murdered.
Defense lawyers suggested that Dorrian might have been the real killer. Under David's questioning, Dorrian admitted that he had told 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. Dorrian said, "I don't believe I had any bruises. It was just a figure of speech." David suggested 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, after St. Guillen's death, he asked her to lie about his using her Chrysler Sebring to see his ailing mother in a Queens nursing home. "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. Police suspect that Littlejohn used another van to abduct and sexually molest St. Guillen.
Using cell phone tower records, detectives in the murder case determined that Littlejohn had been in the area of Fountain Avenue where St. Guillen's body was later 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. In addition, besides those 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. 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 to previous cases in which Littlejohn was alleged to have abducted young women. The victim in the 2005 attack (for which he was convicted) described that she recognized Littlejohn's van during TV news coverage of St. Guillen's murder. She 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. Justice Gerges allowed her testimony in order to prove " ...the identity of the perpetrator in this case;" however, the justice's warned jurors should not take Woodard's testimony as proof of Mr. Littlejohn's "propensity" to commit such crimes. Littlejohn's lawyer Joyce B. David later admitted that Ms. Woodard's testimony hurt their case.
Prosecutors later called a Japanese woman, also a student, who had been raped four months before St. Guillen's death in a manner similar to that of the 2005 Woodard case for which Littlejohn was convicted. According to one Daily News article, she testified that Littlejohn had taped her face "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 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, but 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." 
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 was linked to St. Guillen, and DNA testing had failed to yield a match, the defense rested its 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. 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. She repeated that Littlejohn was framed and another man was a likely suspect, saying: "He was a convenient scapegoat who has a long criminal record". Afterward, 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."
Speaking to St. Guillen's relatives, Judge Abraham G. Gerges said, "I hope that the conclusion of these proceedings today will provide you with some small measure of solace." Judge Gerges directed comments to and about Littlejohn, calling him an unrepentant "predator" who should never taste freedom again. He sentenced him to life without parole. 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. He said, "To my great sorrow, that is not possible." "This defendant is not fit to remain in civilized society." Gerges 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. She maintained that he was framed to protect Dorrian. She said, "there was really nothing for him to say. It's hard for him to say he's sorry for something he didn't do."
In 2009 St. Guillen's family settled a confidential suit they 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 under his parole. 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 settled with the Federal government for $130,000. Tracking software for post-release offenders was later 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. Lastly, the St. Guillen family in March 2011 filed 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, including their screening of personnel.
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.
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 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 establishing the Imette St. Guillen Scholarship for second-year students at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Recipients of the scholarship have included Johanna Vespe, Kevin Barnes-Ceeney, Shea Donato, and Negar Farshbaf. Another scholarship in her name was endowed at Boston Latin School.
- St. Guillen's family has created the Spirit of Imette Foundation, intended to support education for underprivileged children.
Representation in other media
- The murder has been fictionalized in the novels Killer Heat by Linda Fairstein and Angel's Tip by Alafair Burke.
- St. Guillen's murder is discussed in the Jodi Picoult novel House Rules.
- New York band Interpol wrote a song titled "Pioneer to the Falls," which is believed to refer to St. Guillen's murder. The title likely refers to the walk from the Pioneer bar to The Falls bar.
- St. Guillen is 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 Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, is read as part of annual V-Day performances that raise funds to stop violence worldwide against women and girls.
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