By Lori Fullbright, The News On 6
TULSA, OKLAHOMA -- A rape verdict Thursday afternoon by a Tulsa County court jury proved that while justice may be delayed, that doesn't mean it's denied.
A jury found Sylvester Latham guilty of raping a ten-year-old girl and recommended he go to prison for 25 years.
The crime happened 23 years ago, so the victim waited a long time for her day in court. She said this case should be a rallying cry for other rape survivors to never give up hope and have faith in the justice system.
The family couldn't contain their sense of joy and relief after hearing the guilty verdict. They praised God that the jury had given justice to a little ten-year-old girl. That girl is now this 33-year-old woman."Just relief, relief, relief and gratefulness that he has to pay for what he did," she said.
When she was a child, her mother's live-in boyfriend was Sylvester Latham. She testified he began molesting her when she was five and it continued until two days before Christmas 1987, when she was ten years old and he raped her. She told her mother the next day, was taken to the hospital and interviewed by police.
Charges were filed against Latham and a warrant was issued, but, he was never located until last fall, living in Wichita. He was brought back to Tulsa to stand trial.
"It felt great to face him finally and let him know he didn't get away with it," the victim said. "No matter what the verdict was, he was going to be held accountable for what he did to me."
Tim Harris, Tulsa County District Attorney, just happened to answer the phone the day the victim's brother called to say Latham had been found and asked if they would still prosecute. Harris was the only person still in the DA's office from 1988, so he took on the case.
"She said, no, I've been waiting all this time for justice and that's what she got today," Harris said.The police still had the clothes the victim was wearing the night she was raped along with the videotape of her being interviewed by police and the District Attorney even found the doctor who examined her all those many years ago.
There was no DNA found on her clothes, not even her own, because that evidence had been part of the cases that were destroyed in 1995 when freezers in the police lab lost power for a weekend, so the jury had to rely on other evidence.
As for the statute of limitations, charges were filed against Latham in 1988. At that point, the clock stops and prosecution can still happen anytime from that point forward.
Latham is expected back in court on September 7th for formal sentencing.