Sketch Creates Hope, Caution For Police
Now that there is a sketch of a suspect in Morgan Harrington's case, law enforcement is re-examining visual evidence of the scene of the crime. They are also being cautious of relying too heavily on an artist's rendering from over five years ago.
Virginia State Police are going back over surveillance tapes shot in-and-around the John Paul Jones Arena the night she disappeared. Sources close to the investigation say not only are they checking the tapes from the concert venue, but also convenience stores, hotels and banks in the area. Police are doing all this, hoping to spot someone that fits the new description.
"Still, we don't have anyone fitting his description or even an altered description in any of that video," said state police Spokesperson Corinne Geller.
While that artist's rendering is a big step forward in the case, it is not an arrest or conviction. Composite sketches are often considered less than reliable or concrete by those on the inside of investigations. The sketches come from victims who try to remember their attacker. They usually do not get a good look at the person and are recounting details after going through a very traumatic event.
The Charlottesville serial rapist case, for example, produced a variety of suspect drawings.
"Composites seldom end up looking like the actual suspect," stated Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding.
The black and white composite sketch tied to the Harrington case through DNA comes from a suspect involved in a 2005 sexual assault and abduction in Fairfax City.
"I think it's true that appearance does change," said Lt. Joe Rader of Virginia State Police.
However, state police are hopeful someone will recognize the man in the picture. Before becoming sheriff of Albemarle County, Chip Harding was with the Charlottesville Police Department. He worked closely with investigators on the search for the serial rapist. That case saw a string of composite sketches for a potential suspect with the final and most widely distributed one being pulled over concerns it might stop people from calling with tips.
"A woman had seen him for all of maybe two or three seconds," Harding explained. "And we were a little reluctant on our part to maybe release it at all to begin with."
There is also a new rendering out showing the Fairfax County suspect without a beard. Even if a suspicious person does not look like the picture, investigators want to hear from you because if they do not have a lead, they can not follow it.
"If you know someone else who is showing other behaviors that doesn't look like that, don't let that sketch keep you from calling that lead in," urged Harding.
The flip side of the coin is that sometimes a composite sketch is right on the money. Harding says he has been a part of several investigations where that was the case.
More than 50 tips from all over the country have been received since the artist's rendering of the suspect was released. Investigators are now combing through all of them.
If you have any information that can help state police on this case, call them at 434-352-3467. There is still a more than $150,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.