St. Pete man stands trial for rape, murder
With his DNA matched to semen left behind, along with a newspaper splotched with his fingerprints, there was little doubt Virgil DeBose sexually assaulted 78-year-old Audrey Mulligan six years ago, a prosecutor strongly suggested to jurors Wednesday.
DeBose's defense attorney even went so far as to suggest he might concede DeBose raped her.
The more contentious issue, raised as the St. Petersburg man's trial got under way in a Pinellas County courtroom Wednesday, was this: Did the rape, during which Mulligan broke her hip, lead to her death more than a month later? Mulligan died on April 16, 2007, 35 days after someone broke into her home and sexually assaulted her.
Assistant State Attorney Fred Schaub says yes. Defense Attorney Keith Hammond says no.
DeBose, 49, whom police say targeted women he saw while riding the bus, is charged with first-degree murder, sexual battery and burglary/battery in Mulligan's death. He is also charged in the rape of another woman, and was suspected of raping – or trying to rape – two more women, though he was not charged in those two cases.
“We are not going to show he intended to kill her,” Schaub said. “His intent was sexual gratification from a 78-year-old lady.”
Hammond acknowledged to jurors that they would hear of evidence from an “army of people'' regarding the rape, but none on the homicide.
“You're not going to have any scientific evidence of this alleged murder,” Hammond told jurors.
On March 12, 2007, DeBose went to Mulligan's unit at the Paradise Shores condominium complex in St. Petersburg and asked to use the phone, saying his car had broken down. Once inside, he also asked for something to drink, according to police reports.
Then he grabbed her by the throat, dragged her to a bedroom and threw her on the floor, where he raped her, court records say.
After he left, Mulligan called 911. She was admitted to St. Petersburg General Hospital with a hip fracture. Eight days later, she was released to the Pinellas Park Rehabilitation Center, where her blood pressure and temperature dropped, and she developed a urinary tract infection, court records say.
By the time she was readmitted to St. Petersburg General Hospital, her kidneys were failing, and Mulligan, who was a heavy smoker, was suffering from lung disease. She developed a second infection, her abdomen was distending, and her white blood cell count was elevated. The infection ravaged her colon.
But for the rape, she would never have broken her hip, and but for the broken hip, she would never have ended up in a hospital, Schaub said. But for the trip to the hospital, she would never have developed an infection, he told jurors.
In addition to the DNA and fingerprint evidence, prosecutors also have video footage of DeBose entering and leaving the Paradise Shores condominium complex.
DeBose has also been charged with raping a 58-year-old mentally disabled woman with one eye less then three miles away, five days before prosecutors say he raped Mulligan. Prosecutors will wait to see what happens in Mulligan's case before deciding what to do with the earlier rape, Assistant State Attorney Michael Marr has said.
Both attacks happened in west St. Petersburg.
DeBose picked his targets while riding Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority buses, then followed them to their homes, according to investigators. He was identified after detectives released his photograph, taken from a camera on a PSTA bus.
Once he showed up at the women's doors, he would ask to use the telephone to get into their apartments, according to police records.
In addition to Mulligan and the 58-year-old victim, DeBose is suspected of raping or trying to rape two elderly women on the east side of the city, though he has not been charged in those cases.
Five days before DeBose is accused of raping the 58-year-old woman, a man matching his description made his way into the unlocked apartment of an 84-year-old woman, picked her up out of her recliner and carried her to her bedroom, where he raped her or tried to, said St. Petersburg police spokesman Bill Proffitt. Police did not pursue the case because the victim did not cooperate with investigators.
The day before Mulligan was raped, a man matching DeBose's description went to the screen door of a 72-year-old woman and asked to use the telephone, according to police records. She said she didn't have it with her and shut the door. No charges were filed because no crime was committed.