Sunday, August 25, 2002

DNA test could prove he's not child molester




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        Cliff Stubbers spent eight years at the bottom of the criminal pond in an Ohio state prison. And now that he's been out breathing fresh air for 12 years, he wants to dive back to the bottom again and retrieve his reputation from the muck.

        “I fear a child molester tombstone,” he said. “I was an innocent man.”

        They all say they're innocent in prison. In some cases it might even be true. And this could be one of them.

        In 1982, a 10-year-old Cincinnati girl came home from school, made a snack and started watching TV. The doorbell rang and there was a man at the door. He asked to use her phone book. Then he wanted to use the phone. Once he got inside and found out she was alone, he offered her $50 an hour to model for him and be in a big show downtown. She put on her bathing suit, and that's when the friendly stranger told her, “It's time for a physical.”

        “I said no,” she testified. “He said, "If you don't, I'll strangle you,' and he shoved me into the bathroom and he made me take off my swimsuit... ”

        The man raped her and fled. A few days later, police picked up Cliff Stubbers.

        He was a Cub Scout leader, active in his church, born and raised in Indian Hill. But he had also been recently arrested for public indecency.

        And when police showed the little girl his picture in a lineup, she said, “That's him, that's the man and that's just the way he looked.”

        His first trial ended in a hung jury. On the second try he was sent to prison for 5-25 for attempted rape.

        But the evidence didn't fit.

        Fingerprints on the phone book and in the bathroom where the assault took place never matched the prints of Mr. Stubbers. Other evidence - body fluids and hair - were not consistent with samples of blood and hair taken from Mr. Stubbers.

        When he entered prison, he went on a hunger strike to obtain copies of the evidence that he insisted would prove he was innocent. He lost 80 pounds, but managed to pry loose copies of the prints.

        At the time, though, there was no technology to run those prints unless another suspect was identified.

        Today, computers can match prints against millions on file. Prosecutors routinely solve crimes by running prints and matching them to criminals already in prison or out on parole.

        In 1982, DNA testing was practically science fiction. Today, the samples taken in 1982 could be tested and might prove conclusively that Mr. Stubbers was not the molester - or that he was.

        That's what makes the case so unusual. Despite all the claims about DNA setting innocent men free, criminals rarely ask for DNA tests because the results can link them to other crimes and destroy their claims of innocence.

        Run the tests

        But Mr. Stubbers is willing to risk it all to prove that police grabbed the wrong man.

        “I grew up in Indian Hill. I've had all the advantages,” he said. “But I still can't get to these fingerprints. I can't get to the DNA.” His requests for tests were denied.

        But that might change. Mark Piepmeier of the Hamilton County Prosecutor's office said he will review the case. “There are things available now that were not available then,” he said. “I'm willing to ask (Prosecutor) Mike (Allen) to run the tests.”

        The evidence is gathering dust in the police property room. It might find the creep who raped a little girl 20 years ago, or at least bring the truth about Cliff Stubbers to the surface.

        If he's willing to go back into that dark pond and stir up the sediment, he deserves a chance to get to the bottom of it.

        E-mail: pbronson@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/bronson

       



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