Prosecution presents rebuttal during Miami-Dade trial of accused ‘Pillowcase Rapist’

MIAMI – The man who is accused of using pillowcases to cover the faces of his rape victims in the 1980s in South Florida was waiting for the outcome of a 1983 case in Miami-Dade when a judge allowed prosecutors on Tuesday afternoon to move forward with a rebuttal .

Robert Koehler, who detectives identified as the “Pillowcase Rapist” with the help of DNA tech, used a wheelchair. The 63-year-old grandfather had tested under oath on Monday when he described himself as the victim of a twisted criminal conspiracy that involved collecting his DNA to frame him.

Assistant State Attorney Laura Adams argued Tuesday that the jurors needed to know that no one framed Koehler when he was arrested in 2020 as he had alleged.

“He has put into question why the police chose him,” Adams said about her need for a rebuttal.

The victim in the case is a 65-year-old woman who prosecutors said Koehler raped in 1983 when she was 25 years old and had just taken a shower in her apartment. After the defense rested on Tuesday, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Daryl E. Trawick, who is presiding over the case, said the public defenders had opened the door.

“If this is what your honor is allowing, I need time,” Assistant Public Defender Damaris Del Valle said in court.

Trawick didn’t give her much time and Adams called her first witnesses: A police officer who arrested Koehler’s son in 2019, a criminologist who joined MDPD in 2008, and a former supervisor of MDPD’s cold case squad. This was all after Adams and Del Valle questioned two defense witnesses about forensics. Before DNA tech, the first detectives knew in the cases the serial rapist had a rare O-blood type subgroup.

“We had to depend on a blood-typing system that our serology department used in the crime lab,” said retired Miami-Dade Sgt. David Simmons, who was a lead detective on some of the cases. “That was sophisticated but not nearly as exact or precise as DNA.”

Edna Buchanan, the Miami Herald’s legendary crime reporter, covered the search for the serial rapist in 1985. After winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1986, Buchanan wrote about it again in “The Corpse Had A Familiar Face,” which was published in 1987 when the task force to catch the rapist disbanded.

“Scientists at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, produced a five-page psychological profile,” Buchanan wrote in her book.

The case went cold until established DNA databases provided other detectives with solid clues decades later. According to the arrest warrant, the rape kit of the 25-year-old victim in the Miami-Dade case was eventually included in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System. Koehler had been convicted of sex battery in Palm Beach in 1991, so he was a registered sex offender, but he was not included in the CODIS database, which began in 1990.

When Koehler’s son was arrested for a domestic violence felony in 2019, and he submitted a DNA sample for a criminal database, The Florida Department of Law Enforcement found a family match and notified the police departments. Detectives pieced it all together and followed Koehler to collect his DNA, prosecutors said.

“The defendant’s DNA matched,” Adams said in court.

The evidence has since tied Koehler to more than two dozen sexual assaults. Decades after his crimes and with a warrant in hand, detectives found a “dungeon in progress” and safes with women’s jewelry at Koehler’s home during his arrest in 2020 in Palm Bay.

“I really thought that somehow it wasn’t going to happen unless it was DNA,” Buchanan said after his arrest.

On Monday in court, Koehler denied all of the accusations against him and pointed to anonymous corrupt police officers who he said abducted him, threatened him with information about his loved ones, sexually tortured him, and forced him to commit crimes from 1981 to 1986.

“I received an electrical shock in my hand,” Koehler said later adding, “I was shocked over and over,” “I started screaming and throwing up,” “they had IVs in me,” and “the pain was excruciating.”

Trawick allowed the defense to have Koehler describe the alleged torture in meticulous detail. Koehler said the attackers showed him corpses. He said they summoned him to a van, and ordered him to take off his pants.

“I was there maybe 45 minutes to an hour,” Koehler said.

During cross-examination, Koehler said his adoptive father had abandoned him and he dropped out of high school when he was in ninth grade to work. He worked at restaurants and as a tow truck driver before moving to Palm Beach where he met the mother of his only son and his first daughter. After his divorce, he said he met a California woman and had a second daughter. He described himself as a good father.

On Tuesday, Del Valle argued it was unfair to tell the jury about the DNA process because it was going to show Koehler’s son had a domestic violence felony arrest. Adams argued Koehler’s conspiratory tale merited a rebuttal, so the jury understood the timeline of the evidence of the case.

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