Rape arrest, conviction credited to resident's tip

Rape arrest, conviction credited to resident's tip

September 18th, 2009 by Monica Mercer in News

Prosecutors are thanking good police work and a suspicious neighbor for their ability to gain a conviction in a high-profile rape and home invasion.

"(Defendant Tracy A. Roberson) shouldn't have been caught, but sometimes providence reaches its hands," Hamilton County District Attorney General Bill Cox told jurors Thursday in the closing arguments of Mr. Roberson's trial.

A Criminal Court jury took just two hours to deliberate and convict Mr. Roberson of eight crimes including aggravated rape and robbery in the August, 2008, break-in at a North Chattanooga home. He faces up to 60 years in prison when he is sentenced Nov. 30, authorities said.

Prosecutors used physical evidence such as the victim's DNA found on Mr. Roberson's boxer shorts and a car trunk filled with tools to help seal their case.

Authorities admitted after the verdict Thursday that the case could have gone cold quickly had a suspicious resident not alerted police several hours before the crime to a black BMW parked on Mississippi Avenue less than a mile from the home. A policeman ran the license plate number through the state database and thought nothing more of it. But when investigators later found the rape victim's stolen car in the same location, they had their suspect, they said.

"If that part hadn't occurred, we probably wouldn't have been here for this trial," said Lt. Tim Carroll, head of the Chattanooga Police Department's major crimes division. "That's how important that one little piece of information was."

Prosecutors told jurors that Mr. Roberson, 37, used information obtained from his cousin, a contractor who worked for the homeowners, to plan the crime. They said he stole a safe with close to $60,000 worth of valuables and then violently raped the 19-year-old house sitter while the owners were out of town.

Emotions ran high during the three-day trial from Mr. Roberson's supportive family and the victim. The young victim, now 20, tearfully testified about how a stranger in the dark of night threatened to beat her head in and kill her during the rape if she reported it to police.

The victim is not identified here in accordance with Times Free Press policy.

Homeowners Alan and Alison Lebovitz -- Mr. Lebovitz is the vice president of CBL & Associates, the company that owns Hamilton Place mall -- also attended the trial.

Mrs. Lebovitz wept along with the victim, who testified she had agreed to house sit for two days while the couple were in New York.

"In those two days (the sitter) went from a carefree college student to the victim of a violent rape," Assistant District Attorney Neal Pinkston reminded jurors before they left to deliberate.

As they awaited a verdict Thursday, Mr. Roberson's brother and sister, who declined to give their names, said they had no more faith in the justice system but that they prayed jurors would believe someone else committed the crime.

"They have the wrong man. My brother did not do this," Mr. Roberson's brother said shortly before the verdict.

THE CONVICTION

A Hamilton County Criminal Court jury on Thursday convicted Tracy A. Roberson of aggravated burglary, especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, two counts of aggravated rape and three counts of theft of property in the Aug. 7, 2008, invasion of a North Chattanooga home. He will be sentenced Nov. 30 and faces up to 60 years in prison.