Jane Doe No More

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Home About Donna's Story In Donna's Words

My Story

DonnaI wish to share with you a series of events that have greatly impacted my life from September 1993 through 2006. The events will take you through the horror of a violent crime, a flawed and corrupt system, brilliant detective work and the power of DNA. Most importantly, it is a story of hope and perseverance, and bears witness to the fact that good will ultimately triumph over evil.

I arrived home with my children Friday evening, September 10, 1993, after taking them to a children's concert at a local school and out for pizza. My husband John had gone to Colorado for a friend's wedding and left a message on the answering machine saying that he loved and missed us. It was the first time in 12 years of marriage that he'd had been away from home.

In the early morning hours of that Saturday, a masked intruder broke into my home while my children - ages 5 and 7 - lay sleeping in their beds. I awoke to footsteps, looked up to see a shadowy figure entering my bedroom and had no time to react. Before I could do anything, the intruder jumped me. A struggle ensued. I fought and screamed. He quickly covered my mouth. I bit his gloved hand. He wrenched my arm behind my back and warned that if I didn't cooperate I would get hurt. He took great precaution to conceal his identity by disguising his voice and putting a pillowcase over my head. He then proceeded to wrap nylons around my eyes and mouth and tied my hands behind my back. Helpless and acutely aware that my children were in the next room, I told myself not to scream. As the attack continued, the assailant used a knife to cut my clothing, sexually assaulted me, and threatened to kill me if I called the police. Trying to stay alive, I kept telling him that I couldn't identify him, that I would never tell anyone, that this was just between him and me, that he was really a good person and that he hadn't hurt me. Then I felt the cylinder of a gun through the pillowcase on my mouth. It was as if my head were on fire and I saw my life flash before me. I had thoughts of my children finding me in the morning. He took the gun from my mouth and placed it to my temple. As I waited for him to pull the trigger I thought aloud 'Dear God, please absolve me of all my sins."

Flipping me over again, he stuck the gun in my back and said "If you call the pigs I'll come back and kill you." It was the first moment that I thought I might live. I continued to assure him that this was between him and me, and I wouldn't tell a soul. I heard him walk down the wood stairs and close the front door behind him. Then, silence. I momentarily lay there in complete shock - incredibly grateful to be alive - then wriggled free from the ties that bound my hands and ran hurriedly into each of the children's rooms. Amazingly both were sleeping soundly. I knelt down and sobbed.

"Then I felt the cylinder of a gun through the pillowcase on my mouth. It was as if my head were on fire and I saw my life flash before me."

I ran back to my bedroom and picked up the phone. It was dead. I went downstairs to try another phone. It too was dead. I knew then he had cut the phone lines. I made a decision to flee for help. I threw on a bathrobe and slippers, grabbed a single house key from the kitchen, secured the house and ran to a neighbor down the street. My neighbor Cliff took one look at me and knew that something was terribly wrong. I began to relay what had happened and told him my children were up at the house alone. He immediately dialed 911. As the operator began asking Cliff questions, I took the phone. Cliff instinctively grabbed an ax from the basement and signaled to me that he was heading to my house to guard the children until the police arrived. The 911 call lasted quite some time. In fact, I was still on the phone with 911 when an officer arrived at the door and asked if I had a key to my house. I gave it to him, and began following behind. He told me that I must stay back, forcing me to remain at my neighbor's house. I was alone and each minute felt like an eternity. Unable to stand being away from my children any longer, I grabbed a kitchen knife from my neighbor's drawer and darted back up to my house in the dark.

The crime scene was already being trampled on. All kinds of people - arriving officers, relatives, neighbors - were going up and down the stairs, walking in and out of rooms. Windows and doors were opened and closed repeatedly trying to determine how the assailant gained entry. Forensics had not been called in. No fingerprints or photographs were taken. Heeding the words of the officer on the 911 call, I had not removed the nylons that had been bound around my wrists and neck. My right eye was throbbing and tearing incessantly and a female officer encouraged me to go to the hospital. There in the emergency room, medical personnel gathered evidence from my body using a sex crimes kit. It was quickly determined that the rapist had left DNA evidence. The scratched cornea on my right eye was covered and patched, the lacerations on my wrists were noted, and I was given a large dose of antibiotics. The police who had followed us to the hospital told me to go to the station in a day or so for a written statement.

I did just that. John and I met with a detective who would be handling the case and I gave every detail I could think of. Holding on to the blessing that I was alive and my children were untouched, I was determined to emotionally and physically heal quickly. About a month after the incident, my sister encountered a friend we knew as teenagers, who began acting strangely and aggressively towards her. After hearing this, I determined that we should notify the lieutenant who was in charge of my case about my sister's encounter. When I called the lieutenant and asked if we could meet with him at my business office, he insisted that we come to the station. I was afraid of my assailant's threat to kill me, but I agreed to a meeting on Friday morning, October 15, 1993.


 

My sister and I arrived as scheduled. The lieutenant greeted us and said he needed to speak with me first. He took me in a small room, sat in front of me at a desk, and hit record on a tape recorder. He unfolded a small piece of white paper and read me my Miranda rights. During a lengthy interrogation, he accused me of lying. He told me he had countless interviews and photographs to prove it, and that I had everything to lose including my husband, my children, my career and my reputation. The lieutenant even blamed me for calling 911 that night. He said he had 27 cases on his desk and that one way or another he was going to close this one. He continued, insisting that his peers listened to my tape and agreed that I was purposefully lying. He said my children would be dragged through the courts and only a judge who was not in his right mind would throw this out of court. He warned that I would do jail time. Caught completely off-guard, all I could do was tell him that I was willing to take a lie detector test.

A month before, I was attacked in my own home. Now, I was attacked at the police station. Both were places I had believed to be safe harbors. All of the emotional wounds that had begun to heal over the past month were quickly reopened. I became paralyzed for days, unable to sit, eat, sleep or focus. The following Monday morning, my husband and I were back at the station. We were met by the captain - the head of Vice and Intelligence - who just happened to be the lieutenant's brother. He had another lieutenant with him. We thanked them for their time and asked them to play the previously taped interview. They refused. I relayed all of the facts again, but they were indifferent. We stressed the immediacy of investigating the case, which they ignored. We would find out later that the police secretly taped this meeting too, in hopes of hearing me change my story.

"Caught completely off-guard, all I could do was tell him that I was willing to take a lie detector test."

After hearing nothing from the police for days, we called again, pleading for any progress. What we got back in response was that they had not listened to the tape at all - that it would have been a "moot point" - and that the only thing to do now was interview my children. We refused. Angry, distraught and not knowing where to turn, we sought legal counsel. John and I, accompanied by an attorney friend of ours, met with the state's attorney. It was during that meeting that we learned the lieutenants had been given information on my case from an ill-informed citizen who had somehow "heard" I was having an affair, that one of my children woke up and saw the affair, and to cover it up I concocted a false rape complaint. I was sickened. This gossip and innuendo is what had stopped the investigation and caused the police to attack me? After the meeting, the state's attorney asked the officers for the tape of the original police interview. Amazingly, he was told that the tape had faltered and the recording had not been made.

Pursuing new options

It was time to take further action. Our attorney filed a complaint against the police department, requesting an internal affairs investigation. The case was transferred out of Vice and Intelligence and into the Criminal Investigation division. New officers were assigned to the case, including Sergeant Neil O'Leary, one of the force's best detectives. With precious time already lost, interviews were diligently conducted and voluntary DNA samples were taken from many men. One of the investigators knew Dr. Henry Lee, whom I reached out to in a letter asking for help. He agreed and we met. Dr. Lee ordered the DNA evidence in my case be re-sampled, and I consulted with him on a list of policy and procedure recommendations I wanted implemented in the Waterbury Police Department. Unfortunately, the DNA samples did not turn up a match. I tried to stay focused on my family and my business, but life had changed forever.

We waited 13 more months for the Internal Affairs report to be released by the police department. We were hopeful of finally seeing some justice served. Instead, the simplistic report stated that the physical evidence gathered at the scene had contradicted my statements and gave the lieutenant sufficient reason to suspect I was lying. Further, it said that the lieutenant would have been derelict in his duties had he not confronted me the way he did. Supporting documents from interviewed officers included statements that on the night of the crime I continued to wear the pantyhose wrapped around my wrists for half an hour after the police arrived, as if it was a stage prop. In a letter to my attorney, the Chief of Police stated that he was so satisfied with the thoroughness and professionalism of the Internal Affairs report that he personally complimented the two Internal Affairs officers and concluded that no Waterbury police officer had acted improperly during the investigation.


 

That was the last straw. How far reaching was the corruption, I thought? We had tried every way possible to cooperate and work within the law enforcement and legal systems. Now it was time to fight back. We filed suit against the police officers and the City of Waterbury. The lawsuit was extensive, citing 26 violations in all. I had now formally developed a list of police department policy and procedure changes that I wanted implemented so that no other victim would have to go through this type of nightmarish trauma. I wanted improved sexual assault training that assured innocent victims be treated with dignity, respect and compassion. I also wanted an apology and acknowledgement that I was telling the truth all along.

"This was my life - and my reputation - that they had severely damaged. They had pushed me around for seven years, and I needed the trial to set the record straight."

We were willing to settle and avoid trial if my requests were honored. We tried non-binding arbitration but an agreement could not be met. Seven years had passed, numerous depositions had been taken and I was vigorously preparing for trial. The mayor of the city asked to meet with me. I reluctantly agreed. I let him know my expectations. But the city's stance was muddled with legalese and I had no confidence my expectations would be met. The trial was to begin in January 2001. To complicate matters, I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in mid-December. My family was extremely concerned about my mental and physical well-being. I did not want to treat my health casually, but to stop the legal process would have been even more detrimental to my state of mind. We consulted with doctors and a careful decision was made to hold off on the subsequent surgery and radiation therapy until after the trial. On the afternoon before the trial, the city offered a financial settlement and a half-hearted plan to work with me on my demands. Everyone told me I should take it, but it didn't seem right. This was my life - and my reputation - that they had severely damaged. They had pushed me around for seven years, and I needed the trial to set the record straight.

In many ways, preparing for trial had become part of my healing process. So I forged ahead with the support of my family. The arduous trial lasted almost a month; the female defense attorneys were especially brutal. They questioned everything from my motherhood, to the terminology I used on the 911 call, to my injuries. They even went so far as to have a female administrator cut a phone line sample to prove that a woman could do it. One by one Waterbury police officers were called in, swearing to tell the truth but proceeding to spew out hideous lies.

Two officers, however, stood apart and dared to speak honestly. Detective George Lescardes - a family friend - stated that he had told the initial investigating officers they were headed down the wrong path. Sergeant Neal O'Leary said from the stand that he too had found not a shred of evidence to support I was involved in any affair. In fact, O'Leary stated that "Anyone I talked to said that she was one of the finest people that they had ever known - including clergy, friends and family." Dr. Henry Lee testified about the proper procedure for securing a crime scene. Dr. David Johnson from the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Center at Yale testified about the emotional damage the police had inflicted on me, and how detrimental it was to an innocent victim so soon after being attacked.

Jury deliberations lasted five days. Finally, on January 31, 2001, the jury found the defendants guilty. We were awarded $190,000 in damages; but it was never about the money. I wanted the negligence acknowledged, an apology given and change to occur. I never did receive an apology from the lieutenant or his brother, the captain. The city paid for the damages, but the negligent lieutenant kept his job. In fact, he was promoted to captain before taking an early retirement and moving out of state.

Sergeant O'Leary became a captain as well, and soon after became the Chief of Police. He had never forgotten about my case and one of the things he set out to do was revamp the policy and procedure manual for the Waterbury Police Department. We had kept in touch and I offered my assistance on the sexual assault portion. He allowed me to give input to his staff and make recommendations. It was then that a lieutenant I was working with said that although I never did receive an apology from the officers who were negligent, he wished to apologize on behalf of the entire police department. I was brought to tears; finally, a long-awaited apology.


 

In the summer of 2004 I received a call from O'Leary, who asked to meet with my husband and me. My heart started to race. During the meeting he told us about a man who had attacked a 21 year-old co-worker in the Overlook section of Waterbury, the same area where we lived at the time of the crime. Luckily she was able to break-free and run from the attacker. She called the police and an arrest was imminent. Her attacker's name was John Regan. Neil asked if we knew him; John said he had known him since kindergarten and considered him a good friend. Regan had even helped re-shingle our garage roof a couple of years before the attack, and we had him, his wife and his children over for dinner to reciprocate the favor. My husband said with confidence that there was no way Regan could do something as horrific as the attack on me. Neil said that he was probably right, but it was a real long shot he had to ask about and look into.

At the time of John Regan's arrest for attempted sexual assault on the 21 year-old girl, Neil asked him if he would agree to have a DNA sample taken. Regan agreed. On October 22, 2004, my husband and I were called down to Neil's office where he told us Regan's DNA matched that of the perpetrator in my case. I began to tremble uncontrollably as emotions ran from shock to gratitude to betrayal to relief to sadness. After 11 years - and with nothing to go on but DNA evidence - we knew who committed the crime. It was incredible. John was overcome with anger and betrayal that someone he trusted and cared about could be so hurtful to his family. Regan, who was free and awaiting trial on the case involving his 21 year-old coworker, was arrested at his place of employment without incident. Since the statute of limitations on sexual assault had run out in my case, he was charged with kidnapping. Regan pleaded not guilty at his arraignment and was set free on $350,000 bond.

Regan strikes again

The months that followed were riddled with anxiety. I no longer had to wonder who the perpetrator was, but I feared what would happen if my husband ran into him. Would John be able to control himself? It was almost too much to ask. Then, on Halloween night 2005, Regan struck again. He was in Saratoga Springs, New York, lurking in the parking lot of the local high school, waiting for his victim to finish practice. As a 17 year-old cross-country track star walked toward her car in the parking lot, Regan grabbed her about the mouth and torso and tried to pull her into his van where the backseat had been taken out and inside lay a tarp, noose and shovel. She bit, screamed and kicked. Bracing one foot against his van, she used the leverage to break free.

"As a 17 year-old cross-country track star walked toward her car in the parking lot, Regan grabbed her about the mouth and torso and tried to pull her into his van where the backseat had been taken out and inside lay a tarp, noose and shovel."

Thankfully, the girl's track coaches witnessed the attack, ran to her aid and kept Regan at bay until the police arrived. The van also contained a camera, and film with pictures of unsuspecting women. Regan was arrested for attempted kidnapping and although he had no prior record, the Saratoga police would soon discover the pending cases in Connecticut. This time there would be no bond. He was finally behind bars. On November 3, 2005 - Regan's 49th birthday - he unsuccessfully tried to hang himself in his jail cell using his bed sheets. On July 14, 2006, John Regan plead guilty for attempted kidnapping in New York and was sentenced to 12 years in state prison. On October 26, 2006, John Regan pleaded guilty under the Alford Doctrine to kidnapping in Connecticut for my case and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The sentence will be served concurrently with his New York sentence.

Learn how this experience motivated Donna to start Jane Doe No More.

 

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