Decades-old Georgia rape case stalls despite DNA match

ATLANTA — A decades-old rape case, supported by a DNA match, remains stalled in the court system as advocates and one lawmaker point to an unusual interpretation of Georgia’s statute of limitations law.

Beth Martin remembers every second of a late March evening in 1993, when she says a man broke into her home and raped her multiple times as her children slept.

“I thought that I was having a nightmare,” Martin recalls. “And that it wasn’t real. (But) there was dialogue. Because I was questioning ‘How did you get here? What do you want?’”

Martin in excruciating detail can describe the sights, the smell, and the feelings of sheer fear that took over as a stranger violated her. The man would later be found to be out on leave from jail that weekend, charged in another assault.

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It was a crime and a suspect a former detective from a neighboring county knows well. He worked on a case two years later that would put the same man, Marion Campbell, in prison for a separate attempted robbery and sexual assault.

“He was a predator,” John Friedlander told Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr.

Fast-forward 21 years.

In December of 2014, Martin received a call from the state about the Georgia Bureau of Investigation lab’s discovery. Campbell was back in prison, and there was a DNA match to him in her case.

“And I was told that it was 99.9999, you know, he would have had to have had a twin brother for it to have been anyone else, " Martin said. “And that, in fact, he did not have a twin.”

The case headed to trial in Paulding County, circa 2016, but Martin would ultimately be blamed for why it hasn’t moved forward.

Records show Campbell argued to the courts that, despite the DNA match, he could not face a rape charge for Martin’s attack because, decades later, he was out of the 15-year statute of limitations.

The courts agreed, but not based on the argument. The indictment was deemed “fatally defective” simply because it did not outline the statute or the DNA exception.

By the end of the same month, the state reindicted Campbell for Martin’s rape, adding they could not have possibly identified him as a suspect any sooner than the period of original indictment, because they didn’t have an investigative lead on him until the DNA hit.

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Campbell turned around with a revelation.

Campbell believed he’d always been reasonably known as the suspect in Martin’s rape, because Martin had identified him in a sketch presented to her over a decade earlier. And in 1993, police had come into physical contact with Campbell the same weekend of the rape, noting he looked like the suspect during an encounter with Campbell at his brother’s home. The home was just blocks away from Martin’s house.

Ultimately, he argued, the state had actual knowledge of his identity, yet chose not to go after him decades earlier. So the statute of limitations was up, no matter the evidence.

As of February 2021, the Court of Appeals of Georgia agrees. State prosecutors, who declined to speak on the details of the case pending an open investigation, are now headed to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

“I wish they (investigators) would have done the job that they were supposed to do,” Martin said. “That’s what I wish. I wish that they would have listened to me. To made me feel like that what I did (identifying the sketch) was the right thing.”

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Marci Hamilton is the founder and CEO of CHILD USA, a national nonprofit that’s been tracking rape statutes of limitations for decades.

“The court went out of its way to put an artificial deadline  in front of justice,” Hamilton said. “It breaks my heart. I don’t think this is what Georgia’s law was intended to do.”

Since 2002, Georgia’s law has extended the statute of limitations for the state to file criminal charges in adult victims’ cases to that 15 year window. Normally, DNA is the exception.

“Now it’s longer but it’s not long enough and especially with cases with DNA. If there’s DNA the state’s statute says you have an opening for justice, so I was surprised to see how strictly the justices were willing to read into it (law) to keep her out of court,” Hamilton added.

“The court is basically saying if you have any other evidence, you can’t wait on that,” said state Sen. Harold Jones. “You have to go ahead and do the indictment at that time. That’s what this case kind of stands for.”

Jones has sponsored legislation to eliminate the criminal filing statute of limitations in adult rape cases. It doesn’t exist when it comes to children under the age of 16.

“One of the arguments I made was, the issue about ‘Under 16’ says what we believe is we believe children, we don’t believe that they’ll make it up, but when it comes to an adult woman ‘she’s a liar,’” Jones said, throwing up his hands. “That’s really what we’re saying. But the biggest cleanup  would be just eliminating the statute all together.”

This week Channel 2 confirmed Campbell has recently been released from jail in an unrelated case, and there’s a probation violation warrant out for his arrest. Channel 2 was unable to reach Campbell directly, and his public defender declined to talk about the Martin rape case as it heads  to the state Supreme Court.