Forty Years After A Murder, New Twist Could Set Man Free
On the night of February 27th, 1971, dressed in a vintage fur coat, Susan Randall, met up with a friend for pizza. After leaving the restaurant, shortly after midnight, a woman fitting Randall's description was observed hitchhiking near Manchester’s Granite Square. Witnesses say a white car driven by a lone man stopped to pick her up.
Randall’s body, badly beaten and naked from the waist down, would be found two days later, thrown from a bridge onto the frozen Merrimack River in Concord.
“She never had a life, she never had a chance for a life,” says Sally Randall Hembree.
“She was 18 when she was murdered, at the prime of her life. She had just graduated. She was going to the Chamberlain School of Design in the fall…worked two jobs.
Hembree lives in Manchester, less than a mile from where her younger sister was said to be picked up by that white car. She keeps a tattered folder of press clippings, along with Susan’s yearbook photo.
"She never had a life, she never had a chance for a life."
“It is not a good picture of her. She had kind of a light, olive skin. Big brown eyes. Dark, dark brown hair. There was always a sadness about Suzy. For some reason...you can see it in her eyes. Don’t her eyes look sad?”
The random nature of the crime, and the victim--a young, pretty girl--sparked a wave of attention.
"It was for the time, and given the mediascape of the moment, a very big deal," says Attorney Tom Rath.
He was a young prosecutor in 1972, assigned his first major case. Warren Rudman was Attorney General.
The state would spend months gathering evidence it said squarely pointed to a Massachusetts carpenter: Robert Breest.
The night of the murder, Breest had been moving furniture in his white ‘67 Ford sedan between a house in Manchester and an apartment in Lowell.
During a three week trial, the state presented evidence that fibers from the victim’s coat were found in that Ford, that there were blood stains on his boots, scratches on his hands, and type-A blood found underneath Randall’s fingernails…the same blood type as Breest.
And the state relied on another piece of evidence.
A jailhouse confession made to another inmate with a long criminal past.
“David Carita is a liar. Well, was a liar. This is a guy with zero credibility,” says New York-based lawyer Ian Dumain, who is working to clear Robert Breest.
Dumain argues that the confession was made up, and that Carita was a jailhouse snitch offered leniency by the state to tell a story on the stand.
"So who is this second guy? Where did he come from? And if the state hasn't explained to us what the DNA from the second person is doing underneath Susan Randall's fingernails, well, they are not right. They are not right about what happened that night."
Along with the confession, Carita testified that Breest told him that he acted alone. Dumain says new DNA evidence contradicts that theory.
Blood collected from under Randall’s fingernails was retested in 2012, and found to contain a second, and possibly a third man’s DNA.
“All the evidence we’ve heard and seen is about this guy Bob Breest being by himself picking up Susan Randall and killing her by himself,” says Dumain.
“So who is this second guy? Where did he come from? And if the state hasn’t explained to us what the DNA from the second person is doing underneath Susan Randall’s fingernails, well, they are not right. They are not right about what happened that night.”
Dumain first learned about Robert Breest’s case through the Innocence Project, which seeks to exonerate criminals through DNA testing. He’s filed a 109-page legal appeal based on the new evidence.
No one in the N.H. Attorney General’s office was available for comment, but in a court filing last week, the state notes that the latest DNA samples, like four previous tests, do not rule Breest out as a source.
The state also argues that DNA cannot be time-stamped: that there is no way of knowing how long the other person’s DNA had been under Randall’s fingernails. A second before her death, a day or a week?
A hearing on the motions has not been scheduled.
"That was a very, very well tried, well thought out prosecution, and it has withstood the test of time, and I think with good reason, because I think the jury got it right."
In the meantime, Breest remains held in a Massachusetts prison, where he was transferred to be closer to family. His wife and children have stayed by his side. In 1995, Dumain says the state offered him parole, but only if he admitted guilt.
“Breest has never done that, he has said he will never do that, because he did not commit the crime.”
Attorney Tom Rath disputes that claim. The verdict has withstood numerous other appeals since the 1973 conviction. He doesn’t expect Breest to be successful with this latest effort.
“That was a very, very well tried, well thought out prosecution, and it has withstood the test of time, and I think with good reason, because I think the jury got it right,” says Rath.
For Sally Hembree, the appeals have made it impossible to put her sister’s death behind her.
“It is like it never ends. And it won’t end until the day he dies. It will never end.”
There is one other, unrelated, footnote to the Robert Breest case. In 1969, two years before the Randall murder, a female friend of Breest’s disappeared.
The body of Luella Blakeslee was found nearly 20 years later. The state’s cold case unit labels Breest a suspect.