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NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Keith Morrison Correspondent
Dateline NBC
updated 10/10/2009 8:34:12 AM ET 2009-10-10T12:34:12
transcript

This aired on Dateline NBC on Friday, Oct. 9, 2009. Watch related web-exclusive videos here.

It was the year the rain changed. The year the rain in the dark in the woods became a thing to fear. The year a visitor came to call in a privileged green suburb called Forest Hills, and a Nashville lawyer learned about her security – or, rather, that she was not secure at all.

Pat Young: We're all safe-- you know, a man's home is his castle.  We're-- we're safe at home. Well, you're not always safe at home. 

It was March 1994.  That's when the terror began. It was the middle of the night.  Pat Young, accomplished, gutsy woman, successful lawyer, engaged to be married, alone,  asleep in her house, heard something, felt something.  Opened her eyes.

Pat Young: It was a-- a stranger in my home.

Keith Morrison: How terrifying is that?

Pat Young: It's a life-altering event. 

Somehow, some way, a man had broken into pat's house. Now he loomed above her, anonymous, a stocking over his face, his hands on her.  No question what he was there for.

Pat Young: You're at home asleep in your bed and you wake up with a stranger telling you to do what I tell you.  I don't think anybody would doubt what's getting ready to happen. The only doubt is you wonder are you gonna be killed.                       

She struggled.  He was much larger, aggressive, powerful.

Pat Young: You're reduced to nothing so fast that everything-- every ounce of power is taken away from you.  You can have a weapon.  I had a weapon.  If you reach for the weapon, it's probably gonna be used against you.  So everything at your disposal is taken away.

He pinned her down. She felt she would die. And then she did the one thing she thought might survive her, to let someone know what had happened.

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Pat Young: I bit a piece out of his hand.

Keith Morrison: As the attack was going on.

Pat Young: Which is why they had DNA in my case.

Keith Morrison: And what, you held on to it?  Hid it?

Pat Young: I put it under the bed.

Keith Morrison: And were able to retrieve it later.

Pat Young: The police found it later.

Courageous?  The man had a gun on her, could have killed her any second. But at that very moment, Pat Young made a decision: She would not be - refused to be - a passive victim.  A sentiment she was going to share with other women yet to come. Pat Young risked her life, and bit the man. 

Eventually, he fled, into the woods behind her house. Then the police came, the questions began, the evidence search. They found that bit of skin from the rapist's hand.  That precious little piece of DNA. And Pat, the tough, independent lawyer, got up the next day and went to work. 

Pat Young: My receptionist didn't recognize me, I was so swollen and beaten.  And I passed a lawyer downstairs.  He told me later, "That looked a lot like Pat except-- look-- looked a lot like Pat's hair.  But I wonder if that was a car wreck or what."

Nashville DA Roger Moore heard about the vicious attacker, the violence of his assault- and was alarmed.

Roger Moore: We knew this was a person that needed to be found.  And the sooner the better.  And in 1994, we had the DNA.  We had what it took to identify the person.

And of course, had the DNA found its match in some database somewhere back then, back in 1994, what followed might never have happened. But there was no match - nothing in the file, at least. And so the evidence, useful though it was, sat filed away, waiting for a suspect against which it could be compared.

And years passed by in which this horrible but apparently solitary crime went on doing its' corrosive work in the life of lawyer Pat Young.  And she left her home in that leafy neighborhood - though there were other reasons, too.  But mostly, she left behind her sense of personal safety.

Pat Young: I would sit in a house-- every door was locked.  I would check with a handgun, every door, every room, under every bed and every closet.  Even though there was an alarm on where I went after I left my house.  But I'd get in the car and now I've got to get out of the car and go in the house.  What if he's here?  What if someone's here?  What if someone's between me and the house?  I did that for a long, long time. You'd tell yourself that you're being ridiculous. But it does, it alters you.

So it did.  And Pat began to realize that she was, in many ways, alone. 

Pat Young: One of the worst remarks that got made to me was at a Christmas party.  And a woman said "Oh, well, was it good for you?"  And I stood there and looked at her.  And said, "Oh, my god." I went up to the hostess of the party and said, "I have to go."  He said, "Why?"  I said because I'm gonna-- I'm gonna hit somebody and I have to go home now.

And then it was November 1998. It wasn't very far away. Another of Nashville's green, wooded suburbs. It happened again.  And then again. And then...again.

WSMV reporter Dennis Ferrier:

DennisFerrier: He shows up, and he shows up big.

Keith Morrison: And these are upscale neighborhoods.

DennisFerrier: Very upscale neighborhood, very nice neighborhoods. In 1998 it probably happened four times, but it happened the exact same way: rainy night, wooded area, someone is attacked in their own home.  And the guys got a mask.  He's got gloves.  He's got rope.  He's got a condom.  It's like the same MO.  It's very meticulous.

Keith Morrison: That was when people started talking about it. Video: 'A killing of someone's soul'

DennisFerrier: That's when people started talking about it because you have someone in a very affluent part of town breaking in and raping people in a very brazen way.  It's gonna get attention.

The rapes were always vicious, accompanied by brutal beatings, threats to kill the victims and their families -  who were often asleep in the same house.

DennisFerrier: You have a husband upstairs and a woman downstairs, and he goes in and effectively rapes the woman downstairs while the husband is upstairs asleep.

Just think how long he watched to understand that this was OK.

Keith Morrison: Because he'd been watching them for some time

DennisFerrier: Who knows how long. 

And soon a long, creeping terror wound its way around and through the leafy precincts of some of Nashville's most  affluent citizens.

DennisFerrier: You start to hear about this and you're a woman living in that area and it starts to rain and you're afraid.

Zea Miller: You don't think you're gonna live. I was convinced I was gonna die.  That was it.  I was not going to see my birthday.

They were still gracious -the tree-studded lawns around Nashville, Tenn. Gracious, lovely, but something else now, too.  Sometimes, it was terrifying here. In the last years of the 20th century, an unknown rapist invaded the very places the women of Nashville had once felt most secure: their own homes.

DennisFerrier: He had a knife or a gun.  Big athletic guy, powerful build, physically imposing, you know, ski mask.  And-- said, "I'll kill you if you don't do this. if you don't keep quiet and do this, I'll go upstairs and, kill your sleeping husband or other family members." There was always the threat.

Only the ages of his victims varied much, his methods rarely did. He operated at night, he seemed to appear from the woods, then vanish back into them. And he attacked when it rained.

Keith Morrison: He became known as the Wooded Rapist to the public. Why that?

Roger Moore: A number of the incidents occurred during rainy nights.  Where the victims lived in wooded lots or where there were houses not really one on top of another. 

After each incident, the police searched the crime scene meticulously, but there were no telltale clothing fibers, no hairs, only the DNA that had no face. Like a ghost, the rapist left behind no trace that could readily identify him.

DennisFerrier:  They immediately knew they had a real smart guy, and that always bothers them.

As the number of attacks grew, the rapist seemed to redouble his efforts to hide his identity.

Keith Morrison: You said they never saw his face so they couldn't describe a face.  But what-- what else did they say about him?

DennisFerrier: He made some of them take showers.  You know, once DNA came on the scene, then he would, like, try to make them-- make them go take a shower so that he could get rid of the evidence. 

So, clever man in the dark.  But maybe not as thorough as he imagined. Yes, he used a condom.  He had the women shower. But he wasn't able to remove every vestige of the link to him anymore than he could stop the determination of many of his victims to save some piece of evidence that might someday be used against their attacker.

DennisFerrier: The one thing he couldn't really control which was DNA.  You know, you're gonna physically assault someone, it's gonna be hard to make sure you have no DNA. on them. That's probably his only mistake. 

The only problem was, of course, that they couldn't locate a match. And as one attack turned into five, and the terror spread on dark and rainy nights, police were reduced to issuing warnings.

DennisFerrier: They told people that, you know, if you live in a wooded area, you know, to keep your doors locked.  You know, look out for anything suspicious. 

And then for a while, about a year, the attacks seemed to stop. Residents began to breathe a little easier.

Now it was November 1999.  A 16-year-old named Zea Miller moved with her parents to a  suburb called Brentwood. And she was far more concerned about making friends at her new school than with looking over her shoulder. She was asleep, her parents and her dog were nearby. And it was raining.

Zea Miller: It was a day before my 17th birthday and I was home in bed asleep. Two in the morning. To be woken up, in your own home-- at gunpoint…

Keith Morrison: Just like that.

Zea Miller: It was terrifying, yeah.

Keith Morrison: Totally shocking.

Zea Miller: I was convinced I was gonna die.  That was it.  I was not going to see my birthday. I was not gonna direct the school play two nights later.  I was not gonna see my parents again.  I-- I was-- there were a lot of things I wasn't gonna do, because that was it.  I was dead.                              

And now the attacker's method changed a little. Most of the women he'd assaulted in their houses, their bedrooms. But for Zea, he had other plans.

Zea Miller: I was taken to a second location. I was forcibly stripped.  It was still at gunpoint.  I was raped. I have no idea what-- what strange world circumstances allowed it to happen, but I talked my way out of it.  I-- and I-- I ran home, thinking the whole time, "There is a man with a gun and he is probably pointing it straight at me as I am running home.” Video: 'A killing of someone's soul'

Through the pouring rain, she ran, back to the same house which had once sheltered her. Ran back to a different life.

Zea Miller: My life changed and my parents' life changed.  Everything changed. I lost my ability to love who I was. My sense of self was so completely destroyed.

Again the police came, again the questions, the trip to the hospital, the search for evidence. And? There was that telltale DNA. Otherwise, nothing.

Keith Morrison: How was he different than a regular criminal?

DennisFerrier: Most criminals are really dumb.  You know, they make mistakes. They're thinking about what they want and not the result, so they make a mistake and they get caught. Well, this guy, no.  It wasn't like that.  It was like this was his hobby, and he was really, really good at it. 

There were three more rapes in 1999 and 2000, then nothing for two years, then more, one in 2004, two in 2005, two in 2006, all confined to those wooded Nashville suburbs on rainy nights. But while the crimes were eerily similar, the victims were vastly different. A woman seven months pregnant was raped. No one was safe. The rapist seemed to get more brazen as time went on.

DennisFerrier: This single-minded guy that just was gonna hurt women of any age, any circumstan-- you know, raping a daughter in front of a mother, a mother in front of a daughter. But yet be wearing a condom. Really weird and methodical.

Still, his victims did what they could to identify the man, or ghost, or whatever he was...often managing to somehow preserve at least a vestige of their attacker's DNA. So in 2006 the district attorney's office brought an indictment that seemed to some, frankly, odd. An indictment against a phantom called The Wooded Rapist.

DennisFerrier: The grand jury indicts this silhouette, you know, this invisible person.  "We have a five-count indictment, and he did five rapes.  And he's this and, you know, we know his DNA."  But they didn't know who he was.  They had no idea.

So, why the indictment?  Because - for those five early cases of rape - the statute of limitations was running out.

Keith Morrison: So that was why you had a grand jury with the name "John Doe?"  And somebody to indict?  Not so much for the theatre but to preserve the legality of the case.

Roger Moore: To preserve the legality.  Yes, sir.

And then it was 2008. Fourteen years had elapsed. Thirteen Nashville women had been attacked. Some thought he would never slip up. But not everyone.

Keith Morrison: What did you think?

Pat Young: That sooner or later, there will be a mistake.

It was the rain that brought it on.  The rain and the dark. They called him "The Wooded Rapist" for the way he emerged from the trees, then vanished again. For 14 years.  13 attacks, 13 lifetimes of post traumatic flashbacks.

Pat Young: I looked at every man.  I could look at your arm and say you could be him or you were not him.

Zea Miller: It was one of the first rain storms of the fall-- and something about the way rain sounds outside of a glass door triggered some tiny little part of me, that had that body memory, that exact same sound, nine years before and I lost it.  I was curled up in a ball on the floor, crying and screaming, before I knew what was going on.

For all their trying over a decade and a half, and though they kept a bulging file of cases, each with a sample of the rapist's DNA, they could not find him. Could not figure out who he was. There may have been some who felt the police were not trying hard enough, but not the women. They had already done what they could to identify the man. And they seem to feel the police were doing their best too.

Pat Young: There was never a change in personnel that somebody didn't call me to say this officer or this detective's out. Has moved to here.  I've got your case.  Can I come talk to you?

Zea Miller: Over the years, he kept in touch with me.  He said, "Zea, I haven't forgotten about your case.  We're still working on it.  We're still looking for this guy.  We're gonna find him."

Keith Morrison: Must have been enormous amounts of pressure.  I mean-- on-- on both the investigators and on your office to get something done.

Roger Moore: The pressure on them to-- to avoid another victim was tremendous.  And-- and I know one of the detectives worked on the case for years.  Who has now gone to law school and is an attorney.  Just said that that was one of his-- his biggest regrets upon leaving the police department was that that was still an open case.

The rain.  The dark.  The woods. Now it was April 29, 2008. The evening patrol shift had gathered for nightly briefing.

Roger Moore: The police department here had done at roll call, the Sergeant, before sending them out, he remembered had said, "Now, fellas.  It's a rainy night.  Keep an eye out for the Wooded Rapist." 

Same night, a few miles away, in a suburb called Brentwood, a favorite haunt of the rapist, a visiting couple from Michigan bedded down in their camper in a relative's driveway. Their dog slept on the floor beside them, and suddenly:

DennisFerrier: Dog starts barking, yapping. A woman looks out the window of her camper and there's this ski f-- mask right in her face, and he growls at her, you know, rrrr. And she says it was a really mean growl. Well, she gets on the phone and says, "Hey, I've got a-- there's a man in a mask in this neighborhood."

One of the officers who'd attended the briefing earlier that evening responded to the call. Not far from the visiting camper, he spotted a Jeep driving down the dark street.

DennisFerrier: Pulls him over. Ends up having to let him go, you know. Can't hold him, but now they've got him-- their eyes on him.  They know who it is.  They have the license plate. They have face. They have a name.

Keith Morrison: What was his reason for-- for being around there?

DennisFerrier: He said he was going to a party.

A party?  Officers checked with neighbors. There was no party anywhere nearby.

DennisFerrier: Certainly suspected that this guy might be a prowler, but, you know, they let him go that day.   They didn’t have it. But they notified everyone, and that, of course, started the 24/7 surveillance of him.

What they needed desperately, the only thing that might link this suspect to the string of horrific rapes, was a sample of his DNA. But how to get it? Quietly, carefully, they went about the business of tracking their suspect. They watched his house, they followed his Jeep. They waited for an opening. And finally, it came. The man walked into a restaurant, ordered lunch, ate it, and left.

Roger Moore: The-- officers in Brentwood collected his utensils from a meal that he'd eaten and had left without clearing his tray or table.  And submitted those to our TBI crime lab.

Keith Morrison: So as long as the person has thrown it away, doesn't want it anymore, you can go in and scoop it up.

Roger Moore: Yeah.  It's-- I suppose, DNA dumpster diving.

The results were back within 48 hours. The man's DNA matched DNA found on victims of The Wooded Rapist. Within hours he was arrested. And Zea Miller, now 24 years old, answered her phone, and found herself talking to one of the police officers who'd been working her case for almost a decade.

Zea Miller: And he says, "We got him."  That's it.  We got him.

Keith Morrison: Did it register?

Zea Miller: Oh yeah. I was crying and laughing some more and screaming.  And calmed down enough for about 20 seconds to say, "How and who?"

And the answer to that question was about as remarkable as any answer could be.

It was May 1 2008, and finally, there he was: the name and the face behind the DNA. Robert Jason Burdick, 38 years old.  A record as clean as a whistle. This, police decided, had to be the man they called The Wooded Rapist. The man who'd kept his identity a secret through 14 years of terror. And in a small town not far from Nashville, that news was about as shocking as a thing could be.

Their Jason Burdick? Was that even remotely possible?

Angela Greear: It was all anybody was talking about that-- can you believe it was Jason?  Can you believe that he did that? 

Angela Greear is a nurse, happily married, two children. But once upon a time, in Clarksville, Tenn.:

Angela Greear: He was probably my first true love, my first love.

They were sophomores. Both 16.

Angela Greear: Everybody knew him. Everybody liked him.  He had a wonderful family. He came from a wonderful family.  They went to church on Sundays.  They were members of all the organizations.  He was an athlete.

An alpha male in training. Someone men wanted to be like and women wanted to be with.

Dennis Ferrier: He was-- popular, attractive.  Girls liked him.  Women liked him. 

In fact, Robert Jason Burdick had been a local football hero and something of a big man on campus. When Angela Greear moved to Clarksville as a teen, she felt privileged that he chose her as his girlfriend.

Angela Greear: He could smooth-talk anybody.

Keith Morrison: Especially you.

Angela Greear: Yes. Any of the girls.  He had a way with the girls, that's for sure.

After high school, Burdick tried a career as a prison corrections officer, but his success with women got him into trouble.

Keith Morrison: There was a story I think about him leaving the prison system after having an affair.

Dennis Ferrier: Apparently he left af-- because he had an affair with somebody.  And that person's husband attacked him, and there was a fight.

And so Burdick built a new career - in security systems, learning the trade partially under the tutelage of former boss Howard Kohnstamn.

HowardKohnstamm: He was a very good employee. He was at work on time. He was always neatly groomed. 

And his luck with the ladies was always in play.

HowardKohnstamm: I know that,  that he dated several employees. The only feedback I got-- from one of the dates was the fact that he was just way too polite.  He was just way too nice.  Made her uncomfortable.

Too polite? Too nice? Could the police have made a mistake? As the media dug, they discovered Jason Burdick seemed to live an exemplary life.  After a brief marriage, he became active on the charity circuit, once helping Habitat For Humanity by offering himself as a date for a charity auction prize, even dressing up as a mascot for a zoo benefit.

Dennis Ferrier: I mean this whole time he's either married or dating or -- bachelor auction.   You know, he's out there in the community doing things. 

As news of Burdick's arrest spread, the shock spread with it, among women, in particular. One woman called him the "best guy I ever dated." Jason's family stood up for him of course, insisted there must be some mistake. But back in Clarksville, Angela Greear and a few others whose memories stretched back to those high school days began to reflect on a darker side of their old friend. And another memory came bubbling up.

Angela Greear: He had this reputation. I know that he did actually get in trouble for vandalism.

A childish prank?  Angela says she never did find out exactly what got Jason accused of vandalism. But there was nothing at all childish about an incident at the mall after Angela discovered he'd been two-timing her.

Angela Greear: I noticed he was with the girl that he was dating and I turned to her.  And I said, "If you're smart, you'll run."  And I just turned to walk away.  And that's when he grabbed me. And he assaulted me in the mall.  Right there in front of everybody.

Keith Morrison: What happened?

Angela Greear: He grabbed me by my hair and spun me around.  And he hit me.

Keith Morrison: You mean punched you?

Angela Greear: Punched me in the face.

Keith Morrison: You don’t punch a girl. He punched you.

Angela Greear: He punched me. I fought back.  And he had a scratch that kind of ran down the whole side of his face here.

Keith Morrison: How badly did he hurt you when he hit you? Did he bruise your face?

Angela Greear: It was all bruised up on one side of my face. We had to take pictures...

Angela pressed charges. And Jason Burdick, pride of his town and his family, was sent to a youth detention center.

Keith Morrison: For how long?

Angela Greear: I'm not sure exactly how long he went.  I know he missed Christmas, and that upset his family very much.

The family, said Angela, were not at all prepared to accept the proposition that Jason was anything other than a gentleman wrongly accused.

Angela Greear: They blamed me.  They brought every gift I ever bought them, anything that had anything to do with me that was in that house, they brought and dropped on my doorstep.

Keith Morrison: So they couldn't believe that their son had actually done anything bad to you?

Angela Greear: No, no, they couldn't. They could never see anything that he did was wrong.

And neither, apparently, could much of the rest of Clarksville.

Angela Greear: I can't tell you who it was. Somebody set my yard on fire. I became-- an outcast when I sent the Golden Boy to Spencer.

Keith Morrison: Did you ever feel guilty about the fact that you-- that you--

Angela Greear: Sent him--

Keith Morrison: --turned him in?

Angela Greear: Yes, I did. I carried a lot of guilt for a long time.

But now that same golden boy was about to go on trial for brutalizing more than a dozen women, many of whom had stood up to their attacker in ways that would finally make it possible to try Jason Burdick for rape.

Dennis Ferrier: Even as they were being victimized, they kept a cool head. And the 61-year-old woman who was forced to take a shower was moving but leaving certain areas covered at all times in the shower--

Keith Morrison: So she didn't wash it away.

Dennis Ferrier: Even after this-- being terrorized like that, she keeps her wits and preserves his DNA.

But did police have the right man? On April 27, 2009, Burdick was headed to court for the first of what could be as many as 13 trials. One victim, the eldest of them, would have her day in her court. But of course a dozen others had a very personal stake in the outcome. They'd already fought back by collecting those crucial bits of DNA. And now, the very first of the Wooded Rapist's victims decided to continue that fight by keeping a silent vigil in court as the trial phase began.

Pat Young: I asked the victim if it would bother her if I stayed. And she said, "No, please stay." And we sat back there watching for a while. And I finally turned around and said, "Do you think he even knows who I am?  Do you think he knows I'm back here?” We pondered that for a while, and I don't know the answer to it.

The man known as The Wooded Rapist had attacked 13 women. Now Robert Jason Burdick, a well-liked Nashville bachelor, would stand trial for - one by one - each of the crimes. The alleged victims?  A grandmother, a teenager, a mother-to-be, seven months pregnant, and more. He was even accused of raping a friend's niece and then calmly taking that same niece and her family out to dinner weeks later, without being recognized. And now the prosecutor set out to link him to his vicious work with a strand of evidence unlike any other: his own DNA.  Tiny amounts, yes, a few cells, little more. But enough? Oh yes, said the prosecutor.

Roger Moore: This is the holy grail.  It's the gold standard. I think jurors have just-- and the public have come to see it as, if not foolproof, but something that they can believe in.

A terrible kind of "sorority" of alleged victims had a special stake in the outcome of the trial. And at least one of them, The Wooded Rapist's first known victim, a lawyer, was determined to be in court every day.

Pat Young: For years, I wondered who he is.  I mean, just, who is this guy? And it's sort of like going to the zoo. I wanted to see him.

The first case was the newest crime and the eldest victim.  A 61-year-old woman, who quite reasonably might have found it very painful to get up in court and reveal what her attacker did to her. But when the trial began, it was she the prosecutor called upon. And so she took the stand and told her story.  As horrifying and humiliating as it was, in court, she did not waiver. Although the judge did offer her at least a sliver of privacy by ordering the cameras to turn away from her face.

Victim: It was like a fog of him sayin' it twice very strongly, "Get up.  Get up."

She recalled how she had been awoken on the night of her attack by a intruder wearing a ski mask.

Prosecution: What happened from that point on?  You've gotten up, the person is there.

Victim: He immediately put duct tape across my eyes, told me to take off my clothes, and put duct tape on my wrists.

Prosecution:   Are you at that time nude?

Victim: Yes, sir. That's correct.

Prosecution: Tell the jury what happened to you.

Victim: At that time, he French kissed me.  And then, he kissed my breast. 

From there, the nightmare got worse. 

Prosecution: Were these acts with or against your consent?

Victim: Well, I would have chosen for him not to.

Prosecution: Why did you allow him to do this?

Victim: Because I wanted to stay alive.

After he finished, the attacker made her  shower. His intention.. That she wash away his telltale DNA.  But she did not. Did not wash it away. She did the only thing she knew how to do, she said.  In effect, to fight back.

Victim: I didn't get under the water when I got into the shower.  I stood next to the glass.

Prosecution: And why did you do that?

Victim: Just to preserve any evidence if there was any. I took two cotton swabs from-- Q-tips from my cabinet and swabbed my mouth out, put it in Ziploc bag.

At the hospital, a nurse took more samples from her body - samples analyzed by experts who matched them against the unique DNA profile of the defendant.

Attorney: And what were your findings, if any, with respect to a comparison of the known DNA profile, excuse me, of Robert Jason Burdick, with the perpetrator DNA?

TBI Agent Chad Johnson: I found that the profiles did match, and the probability of finding-- an unrelated individual having the same DNA profile-- in the world popula-- or exceeded the world population.

The possibility it was someone else's DNA?  Billions and billions to one, against.

Attorney: So Mr. Burdick's DNA matches the perpetrator DNA from her body, correct?

TBI Agent Chad Johnson: Yes, sir. 

There was more traditional evidence, too, against Burdick.  Circumstantial stuff.  In his Jeep, for example:

Witness: This is one roll of green duct tape and 13 condoms.

Not unusual to find condoms in a bachelor's car, but then a search of Burdick's home revealed more items that could have been tools of a very nasty trade.

Witness: There were quite a few black clothes that were located in a far end of a dresser. And there were obviously a few other things...a few handguns that we recovered.

Prosecution: And anything dealing with nighttime activities?

Witness: There were some night vision goggles that were recovered. I recall some, like, anti-dog barking devices that we located.

But no testimony was as damning as the DNA evidence. After all, no one on earth could have the same DNA as Robert Jason Burdick. Unless, unless he had an identical twin. And Burdick was adopted. Was there an unknown twin somewhere? Someone with Burdick's identical DNA, someone else committing these horrific crimes? Could the DNA be pointing to the wrong man?

Robert Jason Burdick was on trial for the first of 13 rape charges. But no victim had ever seen his face. He left no visible evidence except, prosecutors claimed, his DNA. The defense, led by attorney Fletcher Long, maintained that wasn't enough.

Defense Attorney Fletcher Long: They don't have anything from inside the house that ties him to Mister Burdick.  They don't have anything they retrieved from the yard that ties it to Mister Burdick.  They have nothing but DNA evidence.

That DNA evidence had tagged Jason Burdick as its' owner. But the defense made the jury aware that, in rare cases, two people could share the same DNA.

John Herbison: The probability increases as the degree of kinship to the defendant gets greater, would you agree?

TBI Agent Chad Johnson: Yes, starting with identical twins, they have identical DNA.

John Herbison: Identical twins have--

TBI Agent Chad Johnson: And then stepping out--

John Herbison: --identical DNA.

Keith Morrison: Did you have any hope that you might be able to use the evil twin defense?

Fletcher Long: They sure thought we were gonna say that, didn't they? No. One thing you have to do is you have to-- shake the science.

A long shot? Of course. And in the end the defense did not use it because the prosecution was ready.

Roger Moore: Identical twins may share the same DNA.  But they don't share the same fingerprints.

Keith Morrison: And you had fingerprints from some of the other cases.

Roger Moore: Yes, that was what the defense would have been confronted with had they gone any further.    

The judge: Ladies and gentlemen, the stipulation is the fact that Mr. Robert Jason Burdick does not have a twin.

The only hope for the defense was to prove that the DNA found on the victim had been tainted somehow during the investigation.

Attorney #2: The victim had some swabs that she brought to General Hospital that were taken from inside her mouth. Is that right?

Merrill Stoppelbein: She said it was around her mouth, in her mouth.

Attorney #2: Can you tell us who all had handled those?

Merrill Stoppelbein: She had-- I think they were in a plastic bag. I think it was only her.  

Fletcher Long: We felt like that we put on a contamination case.  The lead detective admitted that the DNA that the victim took herself was put in a plastic bag and it was the worst place in which it could have been put.

But there had been other DNA samples taken at the hospital. Samples that could not have been tainted. And each one pointed to Burdick. There wasn't much the defense could do to combat the science

Dennis Ferrier: They had nothing. These DNA cases are slamming shut pretty fast.  I mean, the defense did not have a single witness. 

The defense decided not to put Jason Burdick on the stand.

The judge: Have you made the decision?

Robert Jason Burdick: Yes, sir.

The judge: You choose to testify or not to testify?

Robert Jason Burdick: To not testify.

The judge: Not to testify. Is that right sir?

Robert Jason Burdick: Yes, sir.

It was his right, of course, not to testify. The trial was brief, lasted just three days.

Prosecution (closing): The DNA in and on her body is his - to the exclusion of everyone in the world. Is he the man who committed these crimes? And I submit to you in closing beyond any reasonable doubt, he is that man I'll ask you to so find.

Defense (closing): Nothing, none of it, connects it all with Mr. Burdick.  Not a thing. I mean, this case is a DNA case. That's it. That's all they've got.

The judge: In the case of the state of Tennessee versus Robert Jason Burdick, I am advised that the jury has arrived at a verdict.

The verdict came quickly. Two hours later, the jury returned.

The judge: Wherein the charge defense is aggravated rape.  Has the jury arrived at a verdict?

Mr. Womack: Yes, Your Honor.

The judge: What is the verdict, sir?

Mr. Womack: Guilty.

Burdick's family was obviously distraught, his father in particular. A very different kind of moment for the victim in the case and the women who had allegedly shared her horror.

Keith Morrison: At the end of that first trial, you found yourself in tears.  Tough lawyer like you.

Pat Young: Here I am squawking in the back of the courtroom.  And it-- it-- it does.  It-- it comes out of nowhere.  It has since 1994.

Burdick was sentenced to 32 years in prison. But even with that guilty verdict, there were questions unanswered. If Burdick was the wooded rapist, how did he chose his victims?  How did he keep his identity so well-hidden from those women and how did he avoid detection for all of those years? The first trial didn’t really fully answer those questions but there are many more cases to come, many more charges, and Burdick has pled not guilty in all of them.

Keith Morrison: How many of them will you try?

Roger Moore: Until we run out of victims.

Keith Morrison: Why?

Roger Moore: Because each victim deserves their day in court.

Keith Morrison: There are things about you that are still broken?

Zea Miller: I am terrified of the dark.  I-- I hate being near woods at night.

Keith Morrison: Rain on glass.

Zea Miller: Yep, rain on glass.  Rain, which used to be my favorite thing in fall, which is my favorite season, will always make me just a little bit on edge. There are things that are gone, in my life, that I will never get back. Oh, I'm-- I am-- I am terrified of the dark.  I'm 26 and terrified of the dark.  I will not sleep with the lights off.  I am terrified of the dark.  I-- I hate being near woods at night. 

Zea Miller, like the other victims, has waited a long time for justice.

Keith Morrison: There's the personal, visceral level, about what you hope happens, or what should happen. Video: 'A killing of someone's soul'

Zea Miller: I have, along with-- many of my very-- sympathetic family members, thought of a really long list of horrible ways that he should die.

Though even a trial won't restore what many of the victims lost the night they encountered The Wooded Rapist.

Zea Miller: He's destroyed the lives of, what, 13 different women.  In some sense, all of us died.  A part of every single one of us died, the moment that he took us.

Still, one by one, their cases will be heard. And at some point it will be Pat Young's turn. The first victim, the savvy lawyer who, in the midst of her worst nightmare, secreted a piece of her attacker to tell her tale.  And she is ready to take him on.

Pat Young: I don't have to know what he looks like.  I don't have to know how tall he is, what he weighs.  There's a piece of him that will always say who he is.

And now on the nights when the rain begins in the wooded suburbs around Nashville, Tenn., there are some who hear not just than the sound of drops on darkened roofs and windows, but an echo of the women with the courage and presence of mind to cleanse the terror from the rain.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints

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