Judith Elaine Doherty sarasota murder

‘Life In Prison’ in the Murder of Judith Elaine Doherty

SARASOTA, Fla. – On Wednesday, Judge Debra Riva sentenced David L. Stephens to life in prison for the 1988 murder of Judith Elaine Doherty.

Stephens has been 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.  He was scheduled to be released in July 2021.

Judith Elaine Doherty sarasota murder
Judith Elaine Doherty

Detectives with the Sarasota Police Department served an arrest warrant to Stephens for Homicide and Sexual Battery on Monday, December 3, 2018, in connection to the 1988 cold case homicide.

On July 31, 1988, at approximately 10:30 a.m., Sarasota Police Officers were dispatched to Booker High School, 3201 North Orange Avenue, Sarasota, after a jogger in the area found Doherty’s body in a field.  An investigation revealed Doherty was the victim of a homicide and sexual battery.  Doherty was 23 years old and was a resident of Venice, Florida.  Sarasota Police Detectives sent evidentiary items of value to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to be tested using DNA technology that did not exist at the time of the crime.

 Stephens’ DNA found at the crime scene linked him to the murder of Doherty. “The life sentence given to David L. Stephens brings closure to this case and comfort to the Doherty family, knowing that Stephens will never victimize anyone else,” Detective Anthony DeFrancisco, Sarasota Police Department.

“In this case, DNA evidence was the silent witness for 32 years.  Judith Doherty’s brutal sexual battery and death remained unsolved, yet the silent witness was always there to tell its story,” said Karen Fraivillig, Assistant State Attorney.  David Stephens’ DNA under Ms. Doherty’s fingernails linked him to her murder and showed how valiantly she struggled to loosen the grip of her killer’s hands from around her throat.  The police are often faulted for having tunnel vision but the Sarasota Police Department did a methodical, deliberate investigation, involving the FBI, local agencies and the Florida Dept of Law Enforcement.  The Sarasota Police Department worked for more than three decades to find Judith Doherty’s rapist and killer.  The State is gratified to finally obtain  justice for Judith Doherty,” said Fraivillig.

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