DNA spurs arrest in 1999 killing
A paroled killer is held after evidence leads police to reopen a case
A controversial 2005 law requiring all convicted felons to submit DNA samples to a national database is credited with providing a break that led to the arrest of a paroled killer for the rape and killing of Evelyn Luka eight years ago, police said.
Authorities charged Darnell Griffin, 48, with Luka's murder yesterday. He is being held in lieu of $5 million bail and is scheduled to appear Monday in Honolulu District Court.
Police said Griffin submitted a DNA sample in November, as required by the new law. In February his DNA was matched to the Luka case, and detectives from the Cold Case Unit reopened the investigation into her slaying.
Luka, 20, was apparently left for dead after she had been beaten, raped and strangled in early September 1999. She died about a month after she was found unconscious in a grassy area near the Ka Uka Boulevard onramp to the H-2 freeway.
Griffin's DNA matched the evidence recovered from Luka's body years earlier while she was in a coma at the Queen's Medical Center.
"There was a hit, and that's when police began their investigation," said Tommy Johnson, paroles and pardon administrator for the Hawaii Paroling Authority.
Griffin was arrested on parole violations Wednesday, and investigators took another DNA sample, which also matched the evidence in Luka's murder, police said.
Griffin was arrested in the murder Thursday. The arrest is the first DNA-related cold-case arrest for the police force.
At the time of Luka's slaying and rape, Griffin was out on parole for murder.
Griffin was found guilty in the 1980 strangling murder of 26-year-old Lynn Marie Gherardi. A co-worker found her dead and naked in the bathroom of her Makiki apartment.
The Illinois native was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole in 15 years. He was freed on parole in March 1996, Johnson said.
Griffin was then a 22-year-old specialist in the Army. Gherardi's friends alleged that Griffin might have been stalking her.
Griffin was arrested a year prior and charged with suspected rape, but those charges were later dropped. Police also looked at him as a suspect in rape cases in Schofield Barracks, but nothing emerged from the investigation, court documents state.
Griffin's arrest seemed to dredge up painful memories for Luka's family. Her stepmother, Soon Ok Morimoto, said the news made her feel "terrible" and that she was leaving for church yesterday afternoon. She declined to comment further. Arthur Morimoto, Luka's father, died two years ago at the age of 64, never knowing if his daughter's killer would ever be caught.
Griffin appears to match the description of a suspect sought in the 1999 Luka case, including a militarylike appearance with military vehicle stickers, police spokesman Capt. Frank Fujii said. Griffin had also lived in a Salt Lake apartment at the time, a police affidavit shows.
Witnesses saw Luka hold hands and leave with someone from Venus Nite Club earlier the night of her death. Luka called her husband at home that night, saying she would catch a ride to their Waipio home with a friend who lived in Salt Lake.
Griffin was in police custody yesterday and was being questioned by investigators.
Fujii said Griffin is also being investigated in connection with other crimes.
Police could not answer whether Griffin's DNA sampling was submitted prior to the 2005 law. Even before the law was passed, convicted murderers and sex offenders were still required to submit DNA samples.
"I cannot disclose that information because it is part of the investigation," said Wayne Kimoto, forensic lab supervisor for the Honolulu Police Department.
He said a variety of factors could lead to delays in matching DNA to cases, including the age of the sample and how it is stored.