A 34-year-old Los Angeles man who last month became the first person in Los Angeles County to be convicted in a case built on DNA evidence was sentenced Friday to 49 years in prison for sexually assaulting two women.
Van Nuys Superior Court Judge James A. Coleman imposed the sentence on Henry Wilds, saying Wilds exhibited a high degree of “cruelty, viciousness and callousness.”
In March, after a trial that featured two months of complicated scientific testimony, a jury convicted Wilds of 10 counts of rape, robbery, forcible oral copulation and burglary in connection with three separate attacks on women in North Hollywood. Wilds wore a mask for two of the attacks, making identification difficult. Although the property of one victim was found in Wilds’ apartment, several jurors said they could not have found Wilds guilty of anything but burglary without the DNA evidence.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Lisa Kahn, who prosecuted Wilds, asked Coleman to sentence Wilds to 77 years in prison, saying he “is a dangerous and violent man and a true threat to our community.”
She cited a string of assault and robbery convictions against Wilds that date back to 1971. Wilds’ victims have continued to suffer emotional trauma since the attacks, Kahn said. One rape victim became pregnant as a result of the assault and underwent an abortion, Kahn said. The third victim suffered a miscarriage a few days after the burglary, the prosecutor added.
But Wilds’ attorney, Ralph J. Novotney, argued that Wilds should receive only a 30-year sentence because he did not stab or beat the victims “or impose any terrorism over and above” what was necessary to assault them.
Coleman took the middle ground after noting that Wilds, a large man, preyed upon “small, defenseless women” and “engaged in a pattern of violent conduct that poses a danger to society.”
With credit for time served and good behavior, Wilds could be released from prison in 24 years, said Novotney, who said he would appeal the conviction.
Developed four years ago in Great Britain, DNA testing is expected by some to become as important a forensic technique as fingerprinting. Others say the technique is unreliable because of flaws in the scientific procedures, statistics and the standards of laboratories that do the work.
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is found in all human cells, including sperm, blood and hair. Experts say the genetic makeup of tissue can be translated into patterns that resemble supermarket bar codes. Except for identical twins, no two people have the same DNA pattern experts claim.
In so-called genetic fingerprinting, DNA samples taken from a crime scene are analyzed and compared to DNA samples take from a suspect’s blood.
Wilds was convicted of assaulting and robbing a 30-year-old woman in December, 1986, in the underground garage of her apartment building, and of a nearly identical attack on a 27-year-old woman in February, 1987.
He was arrested by Los Angeles police two months later, after allegedly following a 28-year-old woman into the underground parking lot of her apartment building. Seeing Wilds, the woman became suspicious and fled in her car. She flagged down police, who arrested Wilds on a bicycle and found a kitchen knife in nearby bushes.
Over defense objections, prosecutors obtained a court order to compare the DNA coding in samples of Wilds’ blood to that of sperm found after the assaults. Maryland-based Cellmark Diagnostics, which performed the test, said there was an infinitesimal chance that the sperm samples were not those of Wilds.
The two-month trial followed an even more lengthy hearing to determine whether DNA evidence is reliable enough and respected enough in the scientific community to be admissible as evidence under California law.
In September, as 35-year-old Ventura woman became the first person in California to be convicted because of genetic evidence. Prosecutors used DNA patterns in 15 strands of hair as evidence that the woman stabbed a man to death at a Ventura hamburger stand. Although appeals are pending, no higher court has yet ruled on the technique’s admissibility.