The trial of the man accused of killing two lesbian hikers in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park in 1996 has been delayed after DNA tests revealed that hairs found at the scene are not the defendant's--and may belong to a known serial killer, The Washington Post reports. The case against Darrell D. Rice, 36, a computer programmer from Columbia, Md., had been scheduled to go to trial Monday in federal court in Charlottesville. But U.S. district judge Norman K. Moon, at the request of both prosecutors and defense attorneys, granted a two-week delay so authorities could continue their investigation.
The suspected serial killer, Richard M. Evonitz, committed suicide in June 2002 when he was implicated in the slayings of three Spotsylvania County girls. According to court papers in Rice's case, the DNA found on duct tape used to bind one of the women and on a pair of gloves at the crime scene is not Rice's. While the DNA tests exclude Rice and the victims as sources for the hair, they do not exclude Evonitz, defense attorneys said. They said forensic examiners had indicated that the testing is far from conclusive, though, and that the hair could belong to 8% of the population. Attorneys on the case said the DNA sample may be too degraded for more detailed testing.
Rice's attorneys argue that the forensic evidence proves that Rice did not kill Laura S. "Lollie" Winans and Julianne M. Williams. Criminal procedure does not allow the defense to ask for an acquittal outright before trial, but Rice's attorneys said they will ask U.S. attorney general John D. Ashcroft to take the
death penalty off the table. Williams, 24, and Winans, 26, were on a five-day hike when they were killed
at their campsite in the park. The women's nude bodies were found June 1, 1996, their throats slashed and their hands bound. Prosecutors, who have alleged that Rice singled out his victims because of a hatred of women and gay people, have said that there is substantial circumstantial evidence linking him to the killings. Surveillance cameras at park entrances twice show him entering the park around the time of the slayings, he has a history of violence against women, and he allegedly made admissions about the crime to other prisoners.