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Deadline For Justice

This story was first broadcast on April 19, 2008.

In 2002, a young television reporter named Jennifer Servo was found murdered inside her apartment just weeks after moving to Abilene, Texas. Police have not yet been able to make an arrest but have vowed not to give up until the case is closed.

That determination - not giving up - had a big impact in another case: the 1991 murder of Patty Scoville in Vermont. While police had DNA evidence, they did not have a database to compare their evidence to. As correspondent Harold Dow reports, it would take years, and intense lobbying by Patty's parents, to establish the database, which would eventually provide a crucial break in the case.

There may be no bigger job in television journalism than anchoring the evening news. It's the dream of every young reporter, one that often begins at a small-town television station, like Abilene's KRBC-TV.

But the dream of Jennifer Servo, who loved to report the news, ended tragically when she became the news.

Jennifer was a small town girl with big city dreams, growing up in the shadow of Montana's Glacier National Park. "She was always talking big. She was going to live in a penthouse in New York. And she was gonna be the next Katie Couric," remembers Jennifer's big sister Christa.

"She got interested in writing in high school and wrote some wonderful stories. And then she decided she wanted to do something with writing," remembers Jennifer's mother, Sherry Abel.

Jennifer knew her plan would have to include college, an expense her parents couldn't afford. But she got some help from Uncle Sam, joining the U.S. Army Reserve to finance her education.

Jennifer headed off to the University of Montana in Missoula, where she immersed herself in the school's professional journalism program.

It was clear to Denise Dowling, an assistant professor of radio and television, that Jennifer had that certain spark. "Everything that she did was focused on making television a career," Dowling remembers.

"She'd worked in college, I think three years, for both TV stations in Missoula, starting out behind the camera at five in the morning for the early show," Sherry remembers.

"In addition to that she was anchoring here on the radio station and she had her guard duties. So she was incredibly busy and pulled it all off, did it all well," Dowling adds.

So well in fact that it wasn't long before Jennifer ended up in front of the camera, reporting the news like a seasoned pro.

Jennifer's graduation in May 2002 should have been the start of a well-deserved vacation, but all she really wanted to do was get right to work.

After completing her final Reserve duty, Jennifer returned home with exciting news: she had landed a job with a small television station in Abilene, Texas. While it was still a long way from New York City, it was a start.

Jennifer came home with one more surprise as well: a new boyfriend, Ralph Sepulveda, a former Army Ranger and Reserve training instructor.

"It was unfortunate that she was moving, because they were crazy about each other, she said," Christa remembers.

But as usual, luck seemed to be on Jennifer's side: Ralph was also going to move to Texas.

Her plan was simple: Jennifer and her mother would drive down to Texas and Ralph would follow once she was settled.

"I said, 'Jen, do you really wanna do that? You know, you've just met him.' That was one side of me. The other side of me was saying, 'At least she'd know somebody there,'" Sherry remembers.

But in fact, Jennifer would soon discover she didn't know Ralph at all.

It's more than 1,700 miles from the lush mountains of northern Montana to the grassy plains of western Texas, a long way from home for a young girl just out of college. But when Jennifer showed up for work as Abilene's newest television reporter, it was clear that there was no place she'd rather be.

Anchorwoman Jennifer Loren and weatherman Brian Travers, who both worked at KRBC in 2002, quickly discovered that the new kid on the block was a natural. "A lot of people say when you come into the news business you either have it or you don't. She had it. And she hit the ground running from day one," Loren remembers.

There was no doubt Jennifer was good at her job, but when it came to relationships, it seemed she still had a bit to learn.

Ralph, who was 34 when he started dating 22-year-old Jennifer, had moved to Abilene to continue what he thought was a long-term relationship.

But Jennifer had a change of heart after Ralph told her some startling news. It turns out he had left another woman back in Montana - his fiancée. Jennifer later discovered that he had fathered a child during a previous relationship.

They agreed to remain friends and Ralph moved into an apartment nearby. After that, Jennifer seemed to blossom.

"A whole new world was being opened up for her. And a weight was lifted off her shoulders. She was just so exuberant about him being out of there," remembers Brian Travers.

In just eight weeks, Jennifer became a valued member of the KRBC family. So when she didn't respond to a call to cover for a sick colleague, her co-workers began to worry.

"Brian and I drove over to her apartment. Her car was parked there. We knocked on her door. There was no answer," remembers Jennifer Loren.

Hoping she'd soon turn up, no one raised an alarm. But after two days, it was clear that something was terribly wrong.

"I told my news director what had happened; he immediately was concerned and said, 'No, this isn't right. I'm calling her apartment complex,'" Loren remembers. "So I'm standing there talking to the executive producer and the police scanners are right behind her. And all of a sudden I hear her address with the DOA, dead on arrival."

It was in Abilene that Jennifer's dream of reporting the news was finally becoming a reality. But her colleagues never imagined that just weeks after she had been hired, they would have to report that Jennifer had been brutally murdered.

Thousands of miles away, Sherry was chilled by the memory of a dream she had had months earlier - a dream that she had lost her daughter forever. "I tried to call Jen on Sunday and she didn't answer. And I tried calling her on Monday, and still no answer and that's not like her at all," Sherry explains.

Two days later, an unexpected visitor turned her dream into a terrible reality. "I look out, and there's a sheriff's officer," Sherry remembers. "I get a feeling that I had this dream before."

Abilene police detectives David Atkins and Jeff Bell began their investigation at Jennifer's apartment. "When we first got in we notice that there were obvious signs that an assault had occurred," Bell recalls.

"Medical examiner tells us that she had strangulation and the blunt force trauma. And either or both could have killed her," Atkins explains.

Investigators collected fingerprint, blood and DNA evidence, but their first lead came from what they didn't find - any sign of a break-in. "I personally do feel that she knew who did this to her. I think she had issues with someone. And this person obviously had issues with her," Bell says.

"The first thing, the first person that I thought of was Ralph," Christa remembers.

"I just knew that it has to be him," Sherry adds.

Jeff Bell says Ralph told him he was at his apartment at the time Jennifer was killed, but that there were no witnesses and that investigators couldn't verify his whereabouts.

But Ralph wasn't the only suspect they were looking at.

At first, detectives were confident crime scene clues would lead them to Jennifer's killer. But it turned out much of the evidence was badly contaminated by the only witness to the crime, Jennifer's cat Mr. Binx.

"It took the lab quite awhile to actually differentiate between cat hair, human hair, any kind of fiber," Det. Atkins recalls.

Asked if the evidence collected pointed to any specific suspect, Bell tells Dow, "Physical evidence, no. You obviously have circumstantial evidence that would lead you to believe that it was somebody who she knew."

With that in mind, investigators focused on the two men who fit that description best: Ralph Sepulveda and Brian Travers.

"Being a suspect, you know it didn't click in my mind at first. I'm like, 'Oh, they just need to know when I saw her last.' You know, it just didn't click," Travers remembers.

In fact, investigators needed to know a lot more, because it turned out Travers wasn't just Jennifer's co-worker-they had a romantic relationship on the side.

"We hit it off, as friends right off the bat. Even though she had a boyfriend at the time living with her. And as that kind of waned, we became closer," Travers explains.

Travers was with Jennifer just hours before the time investigators determined she was murdered.

"Brian said they worked a late shift together. Made the decision that they were gonna go to Walmart," Atkins explains.

Travers says Jennifer dropped him off at his home. "I walked her back to her car, gave her a kiss goodnight. And then she pulled on out of the parking lot. That was the last I saw," he remembers.

Jennifer returned home shortly after midnight. Sometime after that, police believe Jennifer opened her door to a killer.

Sherry believes Ralph killed her daughter. Asked why, she says, "I think he was just a jealous, bitter person. If he couldn't have her, nobody could."

While investigators lacked the evidence to reach the same conclusion, they did discover a stunning reason to move Ralph to the top of their list of suspects.

"She did tell me one time that she did not like the way that he treated her when they were together intimately," Loren says. "That he wanted to strangle her while they were having sex and she did not like that."

Initially, Ralph cooperated with investigators, consenting to interviews, searches and DNA sampling. But that didn't last long. "Would not take a polygraph. Later on, subsequent interviews, he refused to talk to us as the investigation proceeded," Bell says.

Asked why Ralph wasn't arrested, Bell says, "We don't have enough probable cause to go out and make an arrest on this case. I just don't think we're there yet."

It's been more than six years since the murder of Jennifer Servo, but this case is far from closed.

"Of all the people you looked at as possible suspects, have all of them been cleared today?" Dow asks.

"No, they haven't," Bell says.

"They have not? So the people you had as suspects five years ago remain suspects?" Dow asks.

"Pretty much," Bell says.

Investigators say neither man has any history of criminal activity. In 2005, Brian Travers relocated to Chattanooga, Tenn. Ralph Sepulveda re-enlisted in the Army and served a one-year tour in Kuwait. Now living in Tacoma, Wash., his is currently stationed as an environmental science officer. He has declined 48 Hours' requests for an interview.

"Whoever did this is gonna tell somebody some day. That's all it's gonna take," Atkins says.

"We owe it to the city, Jennifer's family, and ourselves to find out who did this," Bell adds.

Jennifer was a young girl with a big dream - a dream shared by everyone who knew her. Now all they can share are the thoughts of what might have been.

"When Jennifer died, every bit of magic in the world left with her," says Jennifer's father, Norman Olson, who set up a Web site to help generate tips and leads in the case.

"I was so proud. She's just was so beautiful and did such a wonderful job," Sherry says.

"And she was determined to make her dream come true?" Dow asks.

"She was," Sherry says. "And she would have."

Never giving up - it's a powerful conviction for the families of crime victims. In fact "never giving up" is what helped solve the case of another young woman, whose dreams were cut short by murder. Her parents did something remarkable, taking matters into their own hands to put a killer behind bars.

Vermont is a beautiful tranquil serene place, and that's what attracted 28-year-old Patty Scoville, a Cornell graduate, who was looking for a more laid back lifestyle.

In October 1991, after working at a corporate job in Boston, Patty moved to Vermont and applied to become a children's ski instructor.

Patty's dad David and mother Ann couldn't wait to visit their daughter. But before they could make that trip, Ann became concerned when Patty's roommate hadn't heard from her in two days.

"When I hung up from that call I knew there was something very wrong," Ann remembers.

Patty's roommate called the police. Just three weeks after moving, Patty had vanished.

"Initially we were looking for a lost or injured person and the search was far and wide," remembers Detective Bruce Merriam. "There was an elderly gentleman that called in and said, 'Jeez, I think I saw her bike.'"

That tip led police to Patty's bike, which was found at Moss Glen Falls, a local scenic hiking trail.

A command post was set up and the search was on. Det. Merriam says more than a hundred people were in the search party. The search involved helicopters, divers, dogs and volunteers. The whole community, even her parents, was looking for Patty.

The second thing that was discovered were Patty's gloves. More than a week would pass without finding any more clues and police were about to call off the search.

But on Oct. 28, eight days after Patty was last seen, a searcher found her bottle; minutes later, Patty's body was discovered, covered with leaves, dead wood, and branches.

"The killer took the time to hide and conceal the crime that he committed and did so in such a way that we were fortunate to even recover a body that season," Merriam says.

"The investigation clearly showed that Patty Scoville was raped and killed and the killer left behind his DNA," Merriam explains.

With the DNA evidence, police and her parents were confident Patty's killer would be easy to find. But incredibly, it would take the efforts of the police, the FBI, the governor of Vermont, and Patty's own parents to bring the killer to justice.

Patty's murder touched everyone, even former presidential candidate, and then-Governor Howard Dean. "It was a real shock to the community. When somebody gets murdered you feel like it's you neighbor," Dean says.

And the job of solving that murder fell largely to a young detective, Bruce Merriam, then 28. "I have to tell you I was the youngest guy on that team. So I caught a lot of flack from some of these senior police detectives."

A 15-man squad was assigned to the investigation. They looked closely at Patty's whereabouts the day she disappeared. "We collected all the material tracing her movements during the time she was in Stowe -- banking records, phone records and calendar information," Merriam explains.

The last pictures of Patty alive were captured by a security camera, as she was making a bank deposit before she rode her bike to Moss Glenn Falls.

Asked what story the crime scene told him, Merriam tells Dow, "It rather quickly told me that we were investigating a sexual homicide. She was struck from behind and she was raped and murdered right there."

The best physical evidence would be the DNA recovered from the crime scene

Dr. Eric Buel, now head of Vermont's forensic DNA lab, was hoping to match that DNA to one of 20 suspects - men who knew Patty or were at the falls that day.

"They investigated and investigated and investigated and still came up empty," says Patty's father, David.

"It was something we that we hoped to be able to solve since we had such great evidence, but in 1991 we didn't have a DNA database," notes Dr. Buel.

Vermont was one of the last states without a DNA database, so they couldn't compare crime scene DNA against known offenders.

The Scovilles realized that the key to finding justice for Patty was to channel their grief and energy lobbying lawmakers for a DNA database. "I was so impressed when I met David and Ann for the first time," Howard Dean remembers. "They put their heart and soul into getting this passed; they were the face of this."

Lawmakers wanted to force convicted felons to submit to DNA testing. But even with the support of Gov. Dean, getting the legislation passed was a tough sell. "People are very sensitive of their invasion of privacy and there was some resistance to getting this passed," he says.

Years began to pass. In the meantime, Patty's family kept her memory alive with memorial bike rides, dedication ceremonies, and offers of rewards.

After seven long years of lobbying, Patty's parents saw the bill creating Vermont's first DNA database signed into law. They had achieved the impossible.

But the DNA from Patty's killer was run against the first group of samples and there was no match. The unidentified DNA from the Scoville case was now part of the new database.

"And I think my worst fear all the way through was that either I would die or the person who committed the crime would die before he was discovered," David remembers.

Progress was slow. There was a massive backlog of cases and little money for testing. But suddenly in 2005, seven years after the database was established, and 14 years after Patty was murdered, there finally was a match.

"I was flabbergasted. It was just remarkable that we were saying this is a way to solve this case and it happened," Dr. Buel remembers.

After testing 80 people and following up on 1,000 leads, investigators had a name: Howard Godfrey, a 59-year-old window installer who had served time for assault.

"We wanted to know everything about him before we sat down to interview him," remembers prosecutor Cindy Maguire.

Godfrey's DNA was taken in 2000 when he was released from prison. Asked why he was in the database, Maguire tells Dow, "As a result of the conviction from 1996 for the aggravated assault."

But before police could make an arrest, the law, which the Scovilles helped pass, required police to re-confirm the source of the DNA.

But investigators couldn't risk just walking up and asking for a sample - instead they needed a way to secretly get Godfrey's DNA. So they staked out his window business. Through their surveillance, investigators knew Godfrey was a smoker, and were able to gather his discarded cigarette butts.

Police bagged and tagged the cigarettes and sent them to the lab for testing; this time the DNA results came back a lot quicker - there was a match.

After 14 long years of waiting, Det. Merriam had his man, or did he?

With suspected killer Howard Godfrey finally in custody - linked to the crime by DNA - Det. Bruce Merriam couldn't wait to confront him.

Merriam wore a hidden wire during his first interview with Godfrey.

"Did you ever date Patricia Scoville?" Merriam asked during the interview.

"No," Godfrey replied.

"In fact, he said he never knew her, never dated her. Never had sex with her," Merriam recalls.

Asked what he was thinking, Merriam says, "I knew we had him. He was our man."

But when police told Godfrey they had his DNA at the crime scene, his story suddenly changed. "He told us that actually he had had sex with Patricia Scoville but that he didn't kill her," says prosecutor Cindy Maguire.

"And did he say this was consensual?" Dow asks.

"He didn't elaborate, but it was certainly a different story than he had told us a couple of hours earlier," Maguire says.

Godfrey was arraigned and charged with killing Patty; he pleaded not guilty.

In January 2008, 17 years after Patty's death, Godfrey was on trial for her murder.

His defense attorney had a lot to overcome, mainly Godfrey's DNA found on Patty's body and clothing.

"DNA is really hard to refute. Juries accept it. We see it every day on TV," Maguire notes.

But defense attorney Kerry DeWolfe then dropped a bombshell: there was other DNA on Patty's body - unidentified hairs found in her mouth, which FBI tests showed didn't belong to Godfrey.

So could investigators and prosecutors be wrong? Could it be that Godfrey didn't commit the crime and the hair belonged to the real killer?

"The link between the deposit of that seminal fluid and her time of death was so close that it was really preposterous to accept that some other person other than the donor killed her," Maguire argues.

And there was something else that convinced the prosecutor she had the right man: that assault in 1996 which Godfrey had served time for.

The attack on Karen Kerin was eerily similar to Patty's murder. "She got hit on the head, he had raped her and I was hit on the head and I fought my way out of it. If I hadn't he would have killed me," Karen says.

Karen, a district sales manager for the Burlington Free Press, was lured by Godfrey to his cabin to talk business. "When I came around he had a shotgun in my stomach," she recalls. "I pleaded with him. I said 'I just got married, I want to have a family.' And so I took the barrel, pulled it away from me with both hands. And we started a struggle. And I asked him to please let me go and he said no he couldn't do that. And he said he had done something in the past and I didn't know what it was. I didn't care at that point, I was thinking of my life and my family."

Karen managed to escape. She went for help and called police. She remembers saying, "You know you got the missing girl in Stowe…is there a connection?"

But the jury never got to hear about Karen's attack because the judge ruled it was prejudicial. Now jurors would have to decide if Patty had consensual sex with Godfrey and was killed by someone else.

In a scant two hours, Godfrey was found guilty.

Prosecutor Maguire says she felt relieved. "Relieved for the family and relieved for the public because he's a very dangerous man."

Howard Dean, now chairman of the Democratic National Committee, followed the case all these years and was thrilled with the verdict. "So having the database was critical. We never would have found Howard Godfrey if it hadn't been for the database," he says.

For Patty's parents, it's a battle they wish they'd never had to fight. "He took Patty's future. He took our future," David says.

"It was almost silent 'Okay Patty" you know. 'There we go. We did it,'" Ann adds.

But one they're glad they did, for all victims of crime.

"How has this investigation and trial affected you?" Dow asks Det. Merriam.

"The investigation affected me," Merriam replies, after a pause. "You know, the length of time. Right out of high school I joined the Marines. And that gave me a certain tools, in that you never give up the fight, you never give up the fight till the fight is done."

Howard Godfrey was sentenced to life without parole. He is appealing his conviction.

Vermont's State Police say they've made 51 successful DNA matches to crime scene evidence since the database was launched.

Produced by Josh Gelman and Shoshanah Wolfson

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