Julie Weil tells the horrifying story of how she was kidnapped and raped in front of her children, but through DNA evidence was able to put her attacker behind bars, find closure and begin to advocate for other victims.
I guess my journey began October 16, 2002. I was actually picking up my daughter from our church preschool. I had my 8 month-old son on my hip. That day, we were kind of late getting out to the car. I was talking to a girlfriend while I buckled my son into his car seat. My back was turned, and my daughter was already in the van.
As soon as I stopped talking to my friend, I was ambushed from behind at the church I had been going to for the last 20 years. A man hit me over the head with what felt like a brick, but turned out to be the end of a six inch butcher knife. He completely disorientated me, and he said, “Get in the van”. As my daughter was screaming, trying to get out, he said, “Get in the van if you want your kids to live. Don’t look at me, because what I’m going to do to you today is punishable by life in prison, and I’m not going to jail.”
He picked me up, he threw me in the van, took my driver’s license and drove to my home. After he told me he knew where I lived, so I would never be free of him, he drove my two children and I out into the Florida Everglades, very deep, and that day he raped me four times.
Each time that he raped me, either my child had to participate in the rape, or I had to hold the hand of my child while he did horrific things to me. By the end of the day, this man had raped me four times, and while he was raping me, he was bragging about how he would never be caught. That he had done this so many times before and he was still out there.
I noticed at the time that he had shaved all of his body hair. He forced me to get rid of the DNA after each rape in a way where it wouldn’t be able to be recovered from my body, and he was taunting me saying, “If I allow you to live, and if you go to the hospital, they’ll never find anything. I’m that good.”
Eventually, after he took me to two different banks, and cleaned out our accounts, he took us back to the church that he abducted me from, and he left my children and I in the bushes. He parked the van in the bushes, and he laid me down on the floor of the van, naked, and put a knife in the back of my neck and forced my daughter to beg not to kill me.
I don’t know what happened. I kind of passed out in that moment, thinking I was going to die, and moments later I heard my daughter screaming, “Get up, get up! He’s gone!” I stood up – I was completely naked, and I stood up and there he was just sauntering off like he didn’t have a care in the world.
With that, I was completely naked driving a minivan, and I didn’t know where to go. My daughter was screaming for her father, but obviously I couldn’t go to his office. So, I ended up going to my parent’s house.
When I got there, I called 911. The rapist had told me, “Do not call the police. I have a police scanner in my car. I know where you live. I know where your kids go to school. I will come back and kill you.” My father convinced me to call the police, and when that law enforcement officer walked through the door, I think that’s the first time I exhaled all day.
They explained to me through the process that they’d be taking me to the hospital, and it wasn’t going to be the hospital near my parent’s house. It was going to be a hospital an hour, an hour and 15 minutes in traffic, because there was a SANE nurse there, and they had a rape treatment center. Of course, my husband and my father, they wanted me to be seen right away at the hospital around the corner, but this officer was fantastic in explaining the protocol to us. That if you want to get the best evidence, if you want to have the best kind of victim care, you really need to go to a center that’s well equipped.
So, I got in the police car by myself, and I drove an hour and 15 minutes to the rape crisis center and underwent a three-hour exam only to be told that they found no DNA. They found no hairs, they found nothing in the kit. What they did have is photographs of my genitals, and pictures of the bruising and the cuts, and things like that, but in terms of having any workable evidence, they had none.
The next day, the police, after impounding my car, let me know that they found absolutely nothing in my van. This man was in my van all day long. He was in every nook and cranny of my car, and they discovered nothing. There were no prints.
I think the feeling of despair that I already had as a victim just amplified, because now – who is he? I hadn’t seen his face. I had no evidence. I lived in a city of three million people (in Miami) at the time, and he could be anybody.
Well, luckily for me, 48 hours after that, I got a call, and they said, “The DNA lab went over your clothing with a fine-tooth comb, and they found a teeny tiny speck of DNA on the inside of your shirt”. Which was ironic, because I didn’t have my shirt on for 99% of the day. They said there was a teeny tiny speck of mixed DNA and they tested it.
For me, the lab in Miami at the time, had no sizable backlog. They tested everything right away, and it came back with a hit on another case – same MO. Abducted from a Presbyterian church, the mother was taken to the Everglades, raped. So they see that this guy is a serial rapist, but we have no identity in the system.
So, whereas it prompted the city of Miami to form a taskforce to search for him, and it put a lot of pressure on the case, he still could be anybody. Luckily for me, an innocent bystander called in a domestic violence call. My assault happened in October. In January, an innocent bystander called in a domestic violence call.
He was beating up his four-month pregnant girlfriend at a motel down in Homestead, Florida. When the police came, they printed him, and he gave up a voluntary DNA swab. He didn’t have to do it, but he did it because he was that cocky. He believed that at this point “they haven’t caught me, so no one is going to catch me”, so he gave up the DNA swab and Miami-Dade ran it right away.
It was odd, because they had been swabbing everybody that they had stopped over the course of four months that would give up a sample and remotely resembled my rapist. They tested that swab so quickly, and they came back with a match and an identification.
Wow, now I can put a face and a three-dimensional person to the fear. It still took two months. He was on the loose, stole a car, went to South Carolina, but then he made a mistake and came back to Florida. Through the show America’s Most Wanted, the officers who found him sleeping on the side of the road were able to make an identification and that’s how he was caught.
I can’t begin to describe what this experience was like. It destroyed my family. We’re stronger now, and we’re filled with hope and things are moving forward, but it destroys you for so long. The criminal justice system is more complicated than people think. We had never been involved with any kind of crime.
From the day he was finally arrested to the day when my trial took place was four years. That’s a really long time to keep getting continuances. He went through six attorneys, and every time my three and half year-old daughter (she grew obviously over time) but from the time she was three and a half until it went to trial and she was almost eight, she was the only eye witness since I hadn’t made eye contact with him.
She was jumping around in the car, she gave the sketch. It was reopening the wound for her over and over and over again. I ended up being the only woman who ever went to trial on the case. His three other victims declined prosecution – they didn’t want to do it. Everybody has their reasons, and there was a plea deal put forth, but 30 years didn’t seem like enough time for a man who had abducted four women and six children over the years. So, I went to trial on my own and he received seven consecutive life sentences just for what he did to my family and I. He got three for the armed kidnappings and then the judge in Miami-Dade saw fit to sentence him to four life sentences – one for each time that he raped me.
The closure that comes form something like that isn’t a myth. It’s a real thing. My case hung on DNA. That teeny tiny speck and the testimony of that lab analyst who went up against a pretty aggressive defense attorney. Her skill on the stand at being able to defend the DNA and the DNA itself was what took this guy who had no criminal record – you know, he looked like a choir boy.
Although he was a serial rapist, they couldn’t introduce that into evidence. So, when he started spinning tails that I was a desperate housewife who enjoyed the thrill of having sex in front of her kids in her van and it was consensual, things got kind of heated.
So, I will be forever indebted to the lab in Miami, to the police officers, and to my prosecutor for giving me the closure that I needed to finally get up off the floor of my van and to put my life together and to now go out and advocate for others.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MORE ARTICLES LIKE THIS? SUBSCRIBE TO THE ISHI BLOG BELOW!