New DNA law leads to arrest in 2001 EGR rape

Mug shot of Jody Howland.

EAST GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A woman attacked and raped by a stranger on the street 14 years ago said she never let her attacker define her, but she’s ready to help define him.

She said she wouldn’t hesitate to testify against 51-year-old Jody Alan Howland after DNA led to his arrest in the February 2001 attack. DNA, taken under a new Michigan law, also showed he raped two women in the Dallas, Texas, area more than a decade ago.

“As far as for me, he means absolutely nothing,” the victim in the East Grand Rapids case, who 24 Hour News 8 is not identifying, said on Tuesday. “He’s just dead to me. He doesn’t even exist.”

Then 23, she was walking from a bar in Eastown early in the morning in February 2001 when a stranger attacked her and forced her down a driveway in the 1600 block of Wealthy Street SE.

“I would call it particularly violent,” said East Grand Rapids Pubic Safety Capt. Brian Williams, who was the first EGR officer to respond.

East Grand Rapids police arrested a man a short time later, based in part on the victim’s description, but DNA cleared him, leaving police without a suspect.

Police told the victim it likely would take DNA to catch her rapist.

“You just resolve it with yourself and move on,” the woman, now 38, said. “I forgot completely that the call might come.”

Two years after her attack, the same unidentified suspect raped a woman in Plano, Texas, then a woman in Dallas about a year later. DNA evidence linked the three rapes, but the attacker remained unidentified.

“It was very painful to know this individual was at it again halfway across the country in Texas,” Capt. Williams said.

For the East Grand Rapids victim, the rape became a distant memory thanks, in part, to counseling, along with family and friends.

“You start having a family and kids and you just forget about it and life goes on,” she said.

But this spring, Jody Howland was arrested on a drug charge in Macomb County, near Detroit. Under a state law that went into effect in January, he gave a sample of his DNA. The new law requires DNA to be taken at the time of an arrest on a felony charge. In the past, it wasn’t required until conviction.

Late last month, Michigan State Police emailed East Grand Rapids that it had a match.

“It’s a wonderful law,” Capt. Williams said. “It’s absolutely fantastic. Without it, we wouldn’t have this solved.”

“As far as we knew, he was in Texas or California, or somewhere else,” Williams continued. “We didn’t have any idea he’d be in Michigan, so we got that information, we were overly excited.”

East Grand Rapids Officer Troy Brown, the original detective on the case, told the victim about the arrest.

“It was sort of emotional,” Brown said. “I got a big hug and she reminded me I promised her 14 years ago that we would catch this guy. It was nice to be able to keep my word.”

Howland was arraigned Tuesday on the rape charge. He is being held on a $100,000 bond. Court records show he denied knowing anything about the sexual assault.

When told about the DNA, he said: “No…Oh no God, please don’t do this to me.”

He acknowledged he had an addiction problem. “I need some help man,” police quoted him as saying.

East Grand Rapids police say authorities in Texas plan to charge Howland once they’re done with him here.

Watch below: In a 2001 report, Susan Samples tells the story of how DNA proved the first suspect was not the rapist.

Viewers using the WOOD TV8 app can click here to watch the 2001 report via YouTube.

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