Sunday, August 7, 2011
Discovery Channel to Feature Jessica Carpenter Case
By Greg Rickabaugh
Publisher, The Jail Report
Normally, I am the one interviewing people about crime. Last week, I got the camera turned on me as producers with The Discovery Channel came to Aiken to film a story on the 2000 murder of Jessica Carpenter (bottom photo).
Producers talked to police, family and others about the dramatic case. They interviewed me about the community’s reaction to the brutal rape and strangulation of the high school student. I wrote about a dozen stories on the case while covering the Aiken beat for The Augusta Chronicle.
An hour-long special will air on an upcoming episode of “Cold Blood,” an Investigation Discovery (I.D.) show entering its fifth season. Producers became fascinated with the Carpenter case because it was such a roller-coaster ride. It had all the twists and turns of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller.
Jessica Carpenter was 17 when her mother returned to their Crosland Park home on Aug. 4, 2000 and found her daughter’s body. The teen had been sexually assaulted and strangled with a phone cord before the killer sliced her throat with a knife.
Jessica died of asphyxiation from strangulation and cuts to the throat, the coroner said.
It was an agonizing two years for the family, investigators and the community as the case remain unsolved.
The case was not without suspects. Over that period, Aiken Public Safety investigators interviewed over 300 people and obtained DNA samples from 94 people, including friends, neighbors, co-workers and even serial killer Reinaldo Rivera. None matched.
Just days after the two-year anniversary of her killing, authorities linked Georgia inmate Robert Franklin Atkins to the crime after his DNA was put into a Georgia database.
It turned out that despite an extensive criminal history, Atkins was working as a deliveryman for Airborne Express in the Aiken area. Police say he talked his way into the Carpenter family home by asking to use the phone. He pretended to be talking to someone, and after hanging up, grabbed Jessica and dragged her around the house.
After his arrest, Atkins apologized to the family, struck a deal to avoid the death penalty and was sentenced to life in prison.
In court, the victim’s sister, Amy Carpenter, spoke about the agony of the case: “We spent two years not knowing who did this, constantly looking at friends, co-workers, and neighbors with suspicious eyes.”
Requiring felons in Georgia to submit DNA samples for a database was the key to stopping a killer and bringing justice to the family.
Ironically, it took South Carolina another six years to create a similar DNA database using all felony suspects.
“We’re glad we’ve got DNA,” Charlie Carpenter, Jessica’s father, said in court in 2006. “We know we got the right person that murdered Jessica. We know in our hearts tonight that the person that murdered Jessica is behind bars and we’re never going to see him again ... and he’s going to come out feet first in a pine box.”