"48 Hours: NCIS:" Can agents stop a ruthless attacker preying on Marine wives?

When a serial rapist targets military spouses, agents race against time before he strikes again

Produced by Asena Basak

The community of Jacksonville, N.C., home to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, was terrorized by a serial rapist over a 14-month span beginning in 2011. Authorities believed the perpetrator was responsible for 12 sexual assaults. Five of those women were spouses of Marines. The Jacksonville Police Department took the lead in the investigation, as all of the attacks occurred off base

NCIS formed a joint task force with the Jacksonville Police Department, who were able to connect the attacks. The rapist left behind few clues, and it wasn't until two victims were attacked on the same night that investigators were able to get their first major leads.

A PREDATOR STRIKES

Special Agent Heather Powers | NCIS: NCIS is a multi-faceted agency.

Special Agent Heather Powers: If there's a crime involving a spouse or a dependent of a Navy or Marine Corps member, our job is to vigorously pursue the perpetrator … that is a big piece of what we do. …so that the military member who is overseas fighting for our country doesn't have to worry about their spouse at home.

Maryann: My husband's a Marine. He is my best friend. …He was in Afghanistan. …I was at home with just my son.

Special Agent Heather Powers: At the time that I was stationed at Camp Lejeune … we had an abundance of sexual assault cases.

Maryann: I'm walking around the corner. …I look up and he's right there. And he's charging at me. …He was covered in black from head to toe. He was wearing black gloves, black boots, black ski mask.

Special Agent Heather Powers: … the subject in the attacks was looking for the perfect victim.

Sarah: My husband worked on Camp Lejeune. He was a welder for Second Tank Battalion.  He got picked up for work and I kinda drifted back to sleep. It happened instantaneously.

Sarah: I saw a man in … the entryway to my bedroom. He was just standin' there with a gun pointed at me.

Lou Eliopulos | NCIS Investigative Review Specialist: This is everyone's nightmare. Where you sit there in the comfort of your home with your children, you look up, and there's someone you don't know wearing a ski mask, holding … a gun, and threatening you and your children.

Briana: I could hear footsteps. ...And then someone shook me. …And then I just felt a smack across my face and it made my head turn 'cause it was so sharp.

Briana: And I just immediately rolled over and I ran, like, as fast as I could. …I was running. I was bleeding everywhere.

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"If there's a crime involving a spouse or a dependent of a Navy or Marine Corps member, our job is to vigorously pursue the perpetrator … that is a big piece of what we do," says NCIS Special Agent Heather Powers.

Special Agent Heather Powers: There was a huge concern by the Marine Corps. There was pervasive fear really.

Det. Anthony Ramirez|Jacksonville Police Department: He took good measures to make sure he didn't leave any physical evidence behind.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: It was hard to say anything was directly connected until a point … where we were able to investigate Briana Murphy's case. We knew we had a connection at that point.

Special Agent Heather Powers: All of the sexual assaults happened off base and the Jacksonville Police Department has primary jurisdiction off base.

Lou Eliopulos: When you have a case like this that occurs … you have no greater case to work and solve.

Special Agent Heather Powers: So NCIS and JPD decided to create a task force to look at all the other cases.

Special Agent Heather Powers: It is believed that the perpetrator was responsible for … 12 sexual assaults … five of those were dependent wives of Marines, four of which were deployed.

Sarah: …when he put the gun up to my head and said he was gonna shoot me, that I took a chance that I was either gonna get shot or I could try and really defend myself. …I wanted to do everything that I could to be part of him bein' caught. 

MARYANN'S ATTACK

Special Agent Heather Powers: Camp Lejeune is a big part of the Jacksonville, North Carolina community. … It's home to approximately 170,000 people. So that includes active duty … Department of Navy civilian personnel, and the dependents.

Special Agent Heather Powers: The mission of Camp Lejeune is to prepare the Marines for war fighting capability so that they can then forward deploy in expeditionary environment, such as Afghanistan, Iraq.

Maryann: …good things about being a Marine wife are the friends, the stability. …he's deployed about every year and a half. …he deploys for seven months at a time.

In July of 2011, Maryann and her 2-year-old son were counting down the days to her husband's homecoming.

Maryann: He had been in Afghanistan for six months. He was due to come home in a couple weeks.

Maryann: I was at home with just my son … And it was, like, 3:00 a.m. I've always had a hard time sleeping when my husband's gone.

Maryann:  So I was gonna go out back and smoke a cigarette. But … the porch light the porch light wouldn't come on. I just figured it had blown.

Maryann: So I went to go out front. And the front porch light wouldn't turn on either. …The light bulb was gone. …like somebody had unscrewed it and took it away.

Maryann: I was dialing my friend and going to go get my baseball bat. And then when I was walking around the corner to my bedroom he was right there.

Maryann: It was just like something out of a movie. …I tried to scream. But nothing really came out. I was trying to hit him with my phone ... blocked that and threw the phone out of my hand. …He asked me my name/ my husband's name, where my husband worked, what he did.

Maryann: …my son's in the other room. …that was all I could think about was my son.

Maryann: He …told me that he had seen me building a table in my backyard. Just things that I had been doing in the backyard. …after he said that he would hurt my son if I fought back or if I screamed or if I made too much noise or if I ran, then I just -- I shut down. And I went into survival mode.

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"It was just like something out of a movie," Maryann says of the assault CBS News

Maryann: He got a hoodie from my bedroom. And he put it over top of me backwards so the hood was over my face. ..and he put me on my bed. And he took my clothes off. And then he assaulted me. …After he was done, he made me take a shower … in the dark with the curtain open. …I kept -- 'cause he made me face the wall in the shower. …I kept waiting for something to strike my back.

Maryann: He told me to use soap and wash myself good. And to stay right there or he was going to go into the next room and snap my son's neck.

Maryann: I just kept my head down. And I just did what he told me to do.

Maryann: …right after the shower.  …He made me cuddle with him in the bed … I thought that the room smelled like gasoline. And I thought that he was gonna set me on fire. …I thought he was gonna stab me. I thought he was gonna shoot me. He kept asking me if I had a gun in the house.

Maryann: And I'm like, "No, there's no gun." He goes, "I know you have gun. Where's the gun?" I'm like, "There's no gun. We don't have a gun in the house."

Maryann's attacker had now been in the house for more than two hours. But her ordeal was far from over.

Maryann: He asked me how much money I had. And I said, "We don't have much money." …And -- he said, "Well, it's payday." …he said, "Well, you can get it from a ATM." …And I said, "But my son's in the other room." And he said, "Well, you can leave him."

Fearing for her son's life, Maryann did exactly what she was told.

Maryann He made me walk in front of him to the car and get in. …He turned my mirror so I couldn't see behind me. …And he sat right behind me in the car while I drove to the ATM. …I really, really wanted to crash the car. …But my son's at home. And nobody was gonna be coming … to check on me or anything.

Maryann: When we got to the ATM …the bank would only allow me to pull out $600. And so he got the $600 … on the way back home he kept … he was tryin' to act like a friend. …he's like, "What's your favorite color? What's your favorite sports team? What's your favorite car?" It was very weird.

When they got back to the house, the intruder followed Maryann inside.

Maryann: He told me to go into my son's room and hug him for dear life. … I picked up my son … I'm holding him in my lap on the floor. And … I keep hearing a bunch of noises outside of the door. So I know I can't do anything yet. …I wait and I wait and I wait … I tried to look underneath the bedroom door.

Maryann: And then I finally get the courage to open up the door, he was gone.

Besides the cash, the masked intruder fled with Maryann's cell phone. That would later prove to be a crucial clue in bringing her attacker to justice.

Special Agent Heather Powers: It wasn't until later on when we determined that we had potentially serial rapist on the street.   

BRIANA'S ATTACK

Once Maryann thought she was out of danger, she grabbed her son, drove to a friend's house and reported the assault to the Jacksonville Police Department.

Maryann: When I went there they just made me fill out a report. …The first detective kept trying to tell me that I could change my story whenever I wanted … he thought that I was makin' it up.

Maryann: We live in a military town where lots of wives cheat on their husbands. He thought … that I wanted a way out of saying that I had cheated on my husband.

Special Agent Heather Powers: When the first rape occurred, it was off base. …and the Jacksonville Police Department has primary jurisdiction off base.

Maryann: They followed me out to the house. …they took pictures. They had nothing to say. …I had no faith in the system at that point.

Jacksonville Police says "in no way did a detective set out to re-victimize the victim or to discount their recollection." The department says it "aggressively pursued the information Maryann provided."

Hours after her assault, and still reeling from it,  Maryann had to break the news to her husband in Afghanistan.

Maryann: And I had to tell him everything on the phone. …He was crying. He was just so upset.  …He was on a plane the next morning.

Maryann: He was just hurt that he couldn't be there to protect me. He blamed himself.

Maryann: It was hard. I couldn't be alone in the house for a while. I had a panic button [laughs] with the security system. …my husband could only leave the house during the daytime [laughs]. And then when we found out he was deploying again, I was like, "we are moving on base. We are not staying in this house."

Over the next 14 months, there were a series of unsolved – and seemingly unrelated assaults.

Special Agent Heather Powers: There was no evidence that was left behind ... He made sure that he had the victims shower, there wasn't any DNA, fingerprints.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: Unfortunately, every lead that we seemed to follow up just inevitably came to a dead end.

On Sept. 11, 2012, it would all change.

Special Agent Heather Powers: We had been alerted that there had been two … assaults off base.

Briana: …when he hit me … I coulda very easily been knocked out.

The link that connected the cases together came when Briana Murphy was shaken awake by an intruder shortly after 1 a.m. 

Briana still lives in the house where she was attacked.

Briana: That specific night for some reason, my neck was hurting … to get the strain off my neck, I laid like this [she had her head at the other end of the bed]

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On Sept. 11, 2012, Briana was shaken awake by an intruder shortly after 1 a.m.  CBS News

Briana: I remember being … tired and you know you're about to fall asleep. But you can still hear. …And I heard, like, footsteps….The door opened. And then someone shook me.

Briana: And then I just felt a smack across my face and it made my head turn 'cause it was so sharp.

Briana: [cries] I knew it wasn't right. And my instinct was … I can see the door was open, so I just rolled over as fast I can and I ran.

Briana: And I remember it was pretty embarrassing. 'Cause … I used to sleep naked. …So I was naked. I was running. I was bleeding everywhere. …And when I came downstairs, it was like the "Twilight Zone." The house was empty.

Incredibly, just minutes earlier, Briana's roommate and four buddies had left the house for a beer run.

Briana: I was like "Where is everybody?"

Briana: I was hurt more than I thought 'cause I dripped blood from here all the way through the living room. …I immediately opened the door … So I skipped this house and came straight to this house and I immediately started banging on the door screaming for help. I mean there were bloody handprints everywhere, nobody came.

Briana: So after I left … I ran across the street to 105 … and I banged on the door as well, nobody answered. I went to 103, I banged on the door and nobody answered. So the neighbors actually across the street, at 310 came out and said they heard me screaming … as soon as I saw him I got down [on her knees]  and I was screaming for help. I was naked so I was just like, "Help! Someone is in my house!"

Briana: A few minutes later the cops came, the ambulance came.

The attacker had vanished, taking Briana's wallet with all her credit cards.

Det. Anthony Ramirez:  I ended up getting a telephone call that day for a break-in and assault that had taken place.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: She was panicked … She had taken a good hit to the face. …she said she wasn't able to recall a whole lot details about the attacker … 'cause it was dark in her room.

Briana: He asked me … "Do you think it was your roommate?" …And I'm like, "No, I don't know who did this. …There's no one who would've wanted to do that."

Moments later Briana's roommate and his friends returned.

Briana: And when they came back, everyone was confused. Because he's like, "Why are there cops in my house? Why is Briana bleeding?"

Briana: …the craziest part. Is that the fact that whole incident happened within, like, 10 minutes, literally.

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Briana had been pistol whipped by her assailant Onslow County D.A.'s Office

At the hospital, Briana learned the extent of her injury. She had been pistol whipped.

Briana: It took 18 stitches. And it was about half an inch deep. It was really bad.

Briana: I just don't get how, especially in a small neighborhood, in a military neighborhood, like, nobody saw anything. There was no witnesses. …I mean he had to be watching, I mean to know that I lived there and that someone had left.

Police and NCIS say Briana's instinct to flee most likely saved her from being raped.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: I think she was very strong … the suspect was, obviously-- very aggressive.

What happened next would change everything about this investigation.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: As I go back to the police department … I received a telephone call about another assault that had taken place.

Briana: We had gotten word that there was another female that had just been admitted for also being attacked and was actually raped. And I just started crying.  I knew that it was it was connected to me.

SARAH'S ATTACK

Just hours after taking Briana's statement, Detective Ramirez got a call about another assault.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: It's probably 10 minutes away from Briana's house. …Quite honestly, I didn't know what to expect. …I didn't know if this was gonna be connected or not. …I went out there to find out exactly what had transpired as well.

Sarah, eight months pregnant, and her husband Andrew were expecting their first child. Andrew worked as a welder for Second Tank Battalion.

Sarah: I was only … 18 when I got pregnant. …We knew it was a girl. …I was excited.

That morning, her husband left for work sometime after 5 a.m.

Sarah: And my husband got picked up for work, and I kinda just drifted back to sleep. …the light turned on and I thought it was my husband … And it ended up not bein' my husband.

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Sarah's attack happen hour after Briana's. "He said he was gonna shoot me in the head." CBS News

Sarah: I saw a man in, like, the entryway to my bedroom. He was just standin' there with a gun pointed at me. …I remember him havin' … a bandana over his face, like coverin' his nose so I could only see his eyes. And he had black motorcycle gloves on.

Sarah: He came in about two minutes after my husband left, he was around that mornin'. He knew I was in the house alone.

Lou Eliopulos | NCIS: He's looking at these homes. He's watching these victims. And knows who's living there, when they leave, when they're gone.

Sarah: When he first came into the house he asked questions like … where our money was, where the weapons were. …I actually told him my credit card was in my car … we didn't have weapons in the house.

Sarah had one chance to get help.

Sarah: I had my phone under my pillow in my bed. …and I tried to just, like, dial 911. But he … just grabbed my phone away from me. …he …forced me on the bed and he had me get down on my hands and knees … and he raped me the first time.

Sarah: I think I was more scared for my baby's life. …I kept telling him … "I'm eight months pregnant."

Sarah: When he was done with that … he put the gun up to my head … And he said he was gonna shoot me in the head.

Sarah: I thought that I was gonna die … So I actually did grab the gun out of his hand … But then he came away with the other hand and just, like, knocked me out into the closet and started beatin' me, like, really, really bad.

Sarah was repeatedly pistol whipped.

Sarah: I was in a lotta pain. My face was throbbin', I could feel … all the pain from him just punchin' me all over the face.  …He smashed me in the head a couple times with the gun. … I mean that's why I had the black eye.

Sarah:  He got my dog's retractable leash that was on the porch, and he actually, like, bound my legs and my wrists and stuff with it so I couldn't move, and he raped me a second time while I was bound.

Sarah: Then he went outside again … And then once I realized that he might not be comin' back … I was able to just kinda scissor the rope off from my hands.

Sarah: I just grabbed my keys, and ran out the door. 13:36:46 I just found the first gas station and pulled in there, and jumped outta my car and ran in all bloody and bruised up … and said, "I need to call 911."

Sarah: I just said that my house got broken into, and I was raped.

At the hospital, Sarah learned the fate of her unborn baby.

Sarah: We had to do a sexual assault kit and I had to go in to get my baby checked out.  …Everything was fine with my baby.

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Sarah was eight-months pregnant with her first child when she was raped and repeatedly pistol whipped by the assailant Onslow County D.A.'s Office

Sarah: I think that if I wasn't pregnant I probably woulda fought … a lot harder, and I mighta gotten really hurt … But I think because I was pregnant … I … went into survival mode more for my baby.

Sarah's husband Andrew rushed to the hospital.

Sarah: … once I told him in the hospital bed that my house was broken into and I was raped he just lost it.

Sarah: My mom … came that night with my husband's mom.

Christine | Sarah's mother: …he didn't only do this to my daughter, but he did it to my grandbaby, too. …How could somebody do that to anybody?

Christine: I wanted to take her and just wrap her in my arms and just say, "Sarah, it's gonna be okay." But I knew deep inside she was going through so many emotions

Sarah: I was just really sad inside. … I really hated to see everybody like that because, I mean, we had a baby on the way.

A little over a month after the assault, Sarah welcomed a healthy daughter, Emma.

Sarah: What helped me get better to this day is that I had a daughter and I didn't want to be a mom, you know, that was depressive.

Lou Eliopulos: He is choosing the vulnerable … He's also compiling a list. …If one of them didn't pan out on the night he wanted to do something, he went to the next person on the list.

NCIS and Jacksonville police were determined there would be no other victims. That's when they decided to pool all their resources and form a task force.

Special Agent Heather Powers: The senior Marine Corps leaders were extremely worried that we had potentially a serial rapist on the street. They have five of their dependent spouses that had already been sexual assaulted. We hadn't gotten anyone in custody.

Special Agent Joshua Lawson | NCIS: I received a phone call from my supervisor saying that there was some incidents that occurred in Jacksonville. … He's like, "We're gonna divert you over there to assist them."

It was a race against the clock.

Lou Eliopulos: In terms of looking at this from a serial perspective … we were worried that there would be increased violence to a point where it could possibly result in a homicide. 

JOINING FORCES

The task force began working the leads on Briana and Sarah's cases.

Sarah: That day, when it first happened, I remembered everything about him.

Det. Anthony Ramirez Jacksonville Police Department: The description that she provided us for the suspect -- would play a significant role later on in our investigation.

Sarah: He was wearing a red hooded sweatshirt, a bandana over his face and his nose, and he had black motorcycle gloves on. …He had these big, big eyes that were just really recognizable.

Sarah: I watched a lot of crime shows, like how they caught people … So I knew … you should always … repeat to yourself the clothing they are wearing. …I paid very close attention.

Still recovering in the hospital, Briana discovered fraudulent charges on her credit cards.

Briana: Bank of America … helped us print out a sheet of exactly where he went, exactly what time, exactly what he bought with my credit cards. …And we took that evidence … to Det. Ramirez.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: That was our real first investigative lead … at that point. …one of our first goals is go and see if there's any kind of video surveillance footage that may capture the suspect using this card.

Special Agent Joshua Lawson Things were moving high speed. So that's one of the things that I was tasked to do. …going and looking for the surveillance cameras.

The investigators were about to hit pay dirt.

Special Agent Joshua Lawson: … the Kangaroo Gas Station had really good surveillance.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: …we had, actually, an excellent visual.

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Surveillance photos of a man in a red hooded sweatshirt using Briana's credit card was pay dirt for investigators   Onslow County D.A.'s Office

Det. Anthony Ramirez: That video surveillance footage showed the suspect wearing a red hooded sweater using Briana Murphy's credit card.

Special Agent  Joshua Lawson: …from the point where the transaction was made until Sarah's sexual assault … it was pretty close in proximity as far as the time, within maybe 20 minutes or so.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: At that point …we were starting to make the assumption that these cases were probably connected.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: but… at the police department and … amongst NCIS, we still weren't able to identify him.

The task force sent photos of the suspect from the gas station to a detective at the local sheriff's office.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: And he came back and said… "Yeah. I know who that is. In fact, I've dealt with him before. …the person that we were looking for was Mr. Willie Abner Brown.

NCIS and JPD learned Willie Brown was a 33-year-old career criminal who lived in town with his mother and occasionally spent time at his girlfriend's house.

Just three days after the attacks on Briana and Sarah, the investigators were anxious to apprehend him.  

Special Agent Joshua Lawson: We checked our databases … We found out that he was actually working on Camp Lejeune.

Brown had managed to get the job through an outside contractor.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: He was a janitor on base. And he would work in different buildings.

Special Agent Joshua Lawson: Let's go get him.

Investigators picked Brown up for a traffic violation as he was leaving the base.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: Ultimately -- he was brought back to the station based off of the warrant that we had obtained-- for the use of Briana Murphy's credit card. … At first, he was somewhat cooperative. …But ultimately once we started discussing the assault on Sarah -- his demeanor changed very, very rapidly. 

Special Agent Joshua Lawson: He was denying everything … And that's when you can kinda see his tension came out.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: In fact …he wouldn't allow us into the interview room to take him into custody. …He tried to shut the door on Agent Lawson. 

Det. Anthony Ramirez: He had gotten to a point where he didn't worry about law enforcement.

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Willie Brown was arrested on Sept.15, 2012, for the crimes he committed against Briana. Onslow County Sheriff's Office

D.A. Michael Maultsby: When Willie Brown was initially … arrested, he was charged with the crimes he committed against Briana. …We waited on the sexual assault charges until we had … further proof.

The Jacksonville Police Department enlisted Prosecutor Mike Maultsby early on in the investigation.

D.A. Michael Maultsby | Onslow County: I knew his name right away. …He had three prior felony convictions and several misdemeanor convictions.

D.A. Michael Maultsby: Once Willie Brown was identified as the suspect … NCIS and JPD really started… to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: …that's when Josh and I went back and we started pulling up other cases that were of similar nature.

D.A. Michael Maultsby: They were working about 12 alleged sexual assaults.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: We went back a two-year time span … to … see if there was any connection … as far as with and physical evidence or any … just general circumstances that were similar.

D.A. Michael Maultsby: They were lookin' to see if Willie Brown was in fact a suspect.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: We spent six months in a private room where we were able to set up kind of shop.

Special Agent Joshua Lawson: It was actually named the war room.

Special Agent Joshua Lawson: For the first month, it was just information gathering stage.

Special Agent Joshua Lawson: The map that we had … we had different color of thumbtacks for locations of the attacks. And when you put it all together, it was around areas where he had frequented. 

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Det. Anthony Ramirez of the Jacksonville Police Department and NCIS Special Agent Joshua Lawson teamed up to find the serial rapist CBS News

Det. Anthony Ramirez: We actually discovered two other cases for a fact that we knew Mr. Brown had been connected in.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: …we actually had … executed a search warrant … to Mr. Brown's mother's residence. …we were searching his bedroom and found … a coffee can … that had things that he had taken … from different victims. 

Among the items recovered were several cell phones.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: We found photographs of Maryann's son on the cell phone. 

Maryann: I got a phone call saying that they've caught him. They told me that they had found my cell phone …. And I had to verify if those pictures were mine. …I was just like "Yeah … Those are mine. You guys got him." [laughs]

The investigators moved into overdrive.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: We … attempted to interview almost every victim that we were able to say that we thought may have had a connection.

Among the people they spoke with was a woman we will call Carla. Carla had been raped at her home on May 17, 2012, the perpetrator had a similar M.O.  to Brown. 

D.A. Michael Maultsby: Carla was married to a Marine; we know her husband was deployed. …she was attacked in the middle of the night when she thought she was alone in the house.

And just like in the other attacks, the intruder wanted weapons. Carla turned over an airsoft pistol.

Special Agent Joshua Lawson: It was replica of a Desert Eagle which is 50 caliber-type pistol. …We were looking to see if we could find a gun.

On October 9, Agent Lawson went to search Willie Brown's girlfriend's house.

Special Agent Joshua Lawson: We looked into the closet….up on top of a shelf, there was a shoebox. And there was a gun on top of the shoebox. It matches as far as being the Desert Eagle that Carla described to us.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: We suspected that … this is the gun that was used, obviously, in the following two assaults.

What investigators learned next was jaw dropping.

Sarah: I had pieces of the gun, it had actually broken off from when he hit me in the face. …So they took that for evidence.

Special Agent Joshua Lawson: The gun itself it was also missing a portion of the trigger guard.

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The pistol with the missing trigger guard was the smoking gun in the case. The plastic broken piece from Sarah's evidence was a match -- it fit perfectly CBS News

Det. Anthony Ramirez: We brought out the pistol, and then we brought out Sarah's sexual assault kit, and basically compared the plastic broken piece, to that of the trigger guard and it fit perfectly. This is the smoking gun.

Special Agent Joshua Lawson: We knew at that point, "we got you."

Sarah: NCIS and JPD … came to my house … in a big black Escalade and told me that they had made an arrest. And I just remember, like, pretty much, droppin', and cryin', and huggin' everybody. …to hear that they had caught the guy for my case.

Sarah: … just a huge relief, to know he was off the streets and he wouldn't do this to anybody else.

But even with all this evidence, could NCIS and Jacksonville Police get a conviction?

D.A. Michael Maultsby | Onslow County: Goin' into this trial I was concerned. ..I've been a prosecutor for 25 years … I can tell you, there are no slam-dunk cases.  

SEEKING JUSTICE

On March 3, 2014, Willie Brown went on trial for the crimes against Maryann, Briana, Sarah and the victim known as Carla.

He was facing a total of 33 charges including first-degree rape, kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon.

Maryann: I had no problems at all testifying. …I wanted to look him in the face. …I needed to know that it was done … he couldn't hurt anybody else.

Sarah: I wanted to testify. …so that I could tell my story and get him put away

Det. Anthony Ramirez: I have a hunch that he is connected to more … Ultimately … it comes down to what we're able to prove. …we were able to say through physical evidence that there was a total of four that we knew that he was connected with.

D.A. Michael Maultsby: There were several pieces of evidence that were important to this case …  this sweatshirt was found from the residence of the defendant's girlfriend … Sarah's DNA was found on this, as well as the defendant's.

D.A. Michael Maultsby: This airsoft pistol was found … along with the red hooded sweatshirt. …This also tied into an assault that had happened to … Carla. …During that attack, we know that the attacker stole an airsoft pistol from her property, it belonged to her husband

That gun was literally the smoking gun at the trial.

D.A. Michael Maultsby: The defendant's DNA, Briana's DNA, and Sarah's DNA were all found on this item. … Sarah's DNA was found along this broken trigger guard, as well as inside the barrel. Briana's DNA was found in the slide mechanism.  

The jury had a lot to work with.

D.A. Michael Maultsby:  Furthermore, you'll notice that it has a broken trigger guard. …Sarah also reported … that part of a trigger mechanism broke off and was lodged in her clothing.

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The North Carolina Crime Lab's trace section took the broken piece of the trigger guard and the remaining piece, and looked at them under a comparison microscope and found that they were a match.  The defendant's DNA, Briana's DNA, and Sarah's DNA were all found on the pistol Onslow County D.A.'s Office

D.A. Michael Maultsby: The North Carolina Crime Lab's trace section took this broken piece and the remaining piece, and looked at them under a comparison microscope and found that they were a match.

Briana and Sarah share a unique bond. Remember, Briana was able to escape from Brown, just a few of hours before he assaulted Sarah.

Sarah: It put us close together to know that//it was all pieced together from what happened to us.

They met each other for the first time during trial.

Briana: I have a special bond with Sarah because of our attack happening the same night. …and then me having the guilt about … what happened to her.  …he didn't get what he wanted from me. …He went and found Sarah.

In an unexpected move, Willie Brown took the stand to defend himself.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: It surprised me, quite frankly. … He didn't offer any answers as to some of the DNA questions.

Special Agent Joshua Lawson: He maintained his innocence. He was like, "I'm sorry for these-- victims. But I had nothing to do with this."

D.A. Michael Maultsby: He was on film using her [Briana's] credit card, so he would admit to that, but he denied everything else.

Brown presented an unusual defense.

Det. Anthony Ramirez: He said that he was … sexually assaulted or molested as a child -- and that's why he couldn't carry out these acts.

Briana, speaking for all of Brown's victims, addressed him directly.

Briana: I wanted to let him know that he was not going to bring us down.  …And it was a poem by Maya Angelou. And it was called "Still I Rise" … and this part was directed towards him when I looked at him:

"Did you want to see me broken, bowed head and lowered eyes, shoulders failing down like tear drops, weakened by my soulful cries … You may shoot me with your words. You may cut me with your eyes. You may kill me with your hatefulness. But still, like arrow, I'll rise."

D.A. Michael Maultsby: The jury began its deliberations at 3:30 on March 13th of 2014.

Sarah: I recognized him. …I didn't have any doubts.

The jury returned a swift verdict in one day.

D.A. Michael Maultsby: It was one of the few times I felt like, "Judge, I need to leave the courtroom, 'cause if this isn't a good verdict, I don't know how I'm gonna react."

The jury found Willie Brown guilty of multiple felony charges, including four counts of first-degree rape against Maryann, Sarah, and the victim known as Carla.

He was also convicted of assaulting Briana with a deadly weapon.

Briana: When they said guilty … I remember everyone was just crying.

Maryann: There is so much against him. There was no way they couldn't find him guilty

Sarah: It's just -- it's a huge relief comin' off of me, you feel safe.

D.A. Michael Maultsby: Willie Brown was sentenced to prison for a very long time … over 400 years.

Special Agent Heather Powers:  These … women that came forward … are directly responsible for us being able to … arrest Willie Brown.

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Sarah, Briana and Maryann: "We stopped the cycle" CBS News

They recently reunited for the first time since the trial ended.

But the memory of Brown's reign of terror is never far away.

Maryann: I think about it all the time. Why didn't I just run out the door, why didn't I just do this, why didn't I do that.

Sarah: I don't sleep because it still comes to me a lot at night. I have lotta nightmares.

But each day gets better for these brave women.

Sarah: I have two daughters now. …I wanted to enjoy my life as a mom with my family

Briana: I'm in a much better place now than I ever was before. I'm married to a great guy. I have two amazing kids. I had to go through the rain to get to the rainbow … that's the way I see it.

Maryann: You have to fight for your story. You have to fight to be heard.

Maryann: Because even if they don't believe you, it could happen to somebody else and they'll report it. And then a link is made. And that's how they get caught.

Maryann: We ended the cycle

Sarah: Yeah, we ended the cycle. So that's one less person down in this world who could hurt women

Special Agent Heather Powers : The sheer bravery that it took on each of their parts is nothing short of amazing.

Special Agent Joshua Lawson: …people think NCIS, we're just there for the Marine Corps and the Navy. We're there for the war fighters and their families and their dependents. That's what we're there for.


"48 Hours: NCIS" is a series from the award-winning team behind "48 Hours." Narrated by CBS' "NCIS" actor Rocky Carroll, each episode reveals, step-by-step, how investigators with the real-life NCIS track killers, crack fraud cases, and how they hunt terrorists using street smarts and technology – the cases they can't forget. Watch Tuesdays at 10/9c on CBS.