Casual chat between prosecutors triggers indictment for a 1975 New Orleans rape
October 8, 2020
For Immediate Release

Contact: Ken Daley, Public Information

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office on Thursday (Oct. 8) secured an indictment against a man linked by DNA results to the 1975 sexual assault of a Tulane University student who was raped at gunpoint in her Uptown New Orleans apartment.

Ronald Craig was charged with one count each of aggravated rape and aggravated kidnapping in the two-count indictment handed up by an Orleans Parish grand jury. Craig, 64, faces a mandatory lifetime prison sentence if convicted on either charge.

The 45-year-old cold case was cracked open following a chance meeting last November at a law enforcement conference in Jacksonville, Fla. Two prosecutors from the SAKI unit of Cannizzaro’s office (Sexual Assault Kit Initiative) met a SAKI counterpart from the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Prosecutor’s Office, whose jurisdiction includes Cleveland.

The Ohio prosecutor, Rick Bell, serves as chief of his DA Michael O’Malley’s Special Investigations Division. Representing Cannizzaro’s office at the conference were Assistant District Attorneys Mary Glass and Naomi Jones, the unit chief and lead prosecutor, respectively, for the grant-funded SAKI team in New Orleans.

Bell followed up with the New Orleans prosecutors in February, informing them of an Ohio woman who had survived an unsolved rape while attending Tulane in the 1970s. The victim told police she was raped at gunpoint by two masked men who intruded into her apartment around 9 p.m. on Sept. 21, 1975. The student was living off-campus in an apartment in the 5300 block of Magazine Street.

The Louisiana SAKI team pledged to find what it could about the 1975 investigation, with OPDA SAKI investigator David Benelli and NOPD SAKI cold case detective Kevin Richardson tasked with locating the old case files and stored evidence. The SAKI personnel of the OPDA and NOPD were honored last Thursday by the Metropolitan Crime Commission as winners of the prestigious 2020 Excellence In Law Enforcement award, and they again rose to the challenge.

After 4 1/2 decades, the investigative file and stored case evidence were reopened. Underwear and a bedsheet associated with the rape were sent to the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab in August, and dried bodily fluids on the evidence were found viable for modern DNA testing. On Sept. 2, the SAKI team was notified of a DNA hit from that evidence matching a sample stored in the federal CODIS database (Combined DNA Index System).

The scientific evidence pointed to Craig, a New Orleans East man with a long history of violent felonies and narcotics and parole violations.

Investigators obtained a search warrant to collect a new buccal swab from Craig last month, and on Sept. 16 the state crime lab confirmed his DNA profile as being consistent with a major contributor to a mixture found on the re-tested underwear. An arrest warrant was signed the next day.

Craig, also pictured at left in a 1975 arrest photo, was arrested Sept. 24, and has remained in custody at the Orleans Justice Center jail since, in lieu of a bond amount set at $250,000. The second suspect in the attack remains unidentified.

“I could not be prouder of our relentless SAKI team,” Cannizzaro said. “The opportunity to solve this crime and bring long-overdue justice for its survivor came about only because people spoke up.

“The victim shared her story in Ohio, and wondered what ever became of the investigation after she had started a career outside New Orleans. A concerned prosecutor in Cleveland made sure to mention it to new colleagues he met from New Orleans. And from there, our determined prosecutors and investigators dug in and came out holding this sex offender accountable for his vicious actions of 45 years ago. It’s a truly remarkable story and a credit to all the dedicated people involved.”

Glass presented the case to the grand jury.

NOTE: Detectives are re-examining a handful of other 1975 sexual assaults reported in the same general vicinity, and ask anyone with additional information to contact ADA Glass or Detective Richardson.