An arrest was made this week in a 30-year-old homicide cold case involving a Venice woman.

Detectives with the Sarasota Police Department served an arrest warrant to David L. Stephens, 62, for homicide and sexual battery on Monday in connection to the 1988 cold case homicide of Judith Elaine Doherty.

Doherty was 23 and a resident of Venice when she was killed.

Stephens was already in prison at the DeSoto Correctional Institution in Arcadia on charges of armed sexual battery and burglary in connection to a February 1989 case that occurred in Sarasota County, according to a SPD press release issued Tuesday. He was incarcerated six months after Doherty’s death on another burglary and armed sexual battery case. Stephens was scheduled to be released in July 2021.

Chief Bernadette DiPino held a news conference Tuesday at Sarasota Police Headquarters in Sarasota announcing the arrest. She applauded Criminal Investigations Division Detective Anthony DeFrancisco for the investigate work that led to the arrest.

Doherty’s older sister, Karen Aron, stood next to DiPino, and said she was grateful for closure in the case.

Doherty was described as a gentle, free spirit who loved her Shih Tzu dog named Jim Lee.

On July 31, 1988, at approximately 10:30 a.m., Sarasota Police Officers were dispatched to Booker High School, on North Orange Avenue in Sarasota, after a jogger found Doherty’s body in a field. Police determined Doherty was the victim of a homicide.

She was beaten, strangled and sexually assaulted, said detectives.

Stevens at the time lived across from the crime scene near Booker High.

Sarasota Police Detectives used DNA technology that did not exist at the time of the crime and sent evidentiary items to be tested at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, DiPino said.

Stephens’ DNA found at the crime scene linked him to the murder of Doherty, said Det. DeFrancisco. Other evidence at the crime scene corroborated the defendant’s involvement, he said.


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