Boston hearing could crack GR identical twin rape case

Left to right: Jerome and Tyrone Cooper. (Courtesy photos)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The brutal rape of a Grand Rapids college student more than 17 years ago remains unsolved despite a DNA match. That’s because the DNA pointed to one of two identical twins, both convicted sex offenders living in the Muskegon area.

But courtroom arguments more than 800 miles away on Monday could finally lead to a break in this case.

The district attorney in Suffolk County, Massachusetts is arguing that a recent breakthrough in DNA technology can differentiate between identical twins and should be accepted in court.

If accepted, police and prosecutors in Grand Rapids would consider using the same technology to finally solve a rape that happened in November 1999.

In that case, a 26-year-old student was walking to her car after a night class at Kendall College of Art and Design in downtown Grand Rapids when she was attacked by a stranger.

Traditional DNA tests identified the suspect as Jerome Cooper, of Twin Lake, but police later learned he has an identical twin: Tyrone. The Coopers, now 49, are both convicted sex offenders on the sex offender registry living in the same area.

Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said the Boston case could be pivotal in the local case.

In Boston, Dwayne McNair was charged five years ago with eight counts of rape and armed robbery for attacks on two women in 2004. But those charges were dropped because traditional DNA tests couldn’t differentiate between him and his identical twin.

The Suffolk County District Attorney refiled the charges in 2014 after a revolutionary DNA test found Dwayne McNair was several billion times more likely than his brother to be the rapist.

“It would be very nice to have that kind of decision out of Massachusetts because that would give us a basis to take a look at things here again,” Becker said. “But that doesn’t mean by any stretch it’s an automatic wave of the wand and we’re going to be able to proceed on that case.”

Suffolk County DA spokesman Jake Wark said he expects the hearing will last several days, but he said it could take several weeks for the judge to rule.

Even if a judge in Boston rules the science is sound, a judge in West Michigan would have to make their own decision, Becker said.

Then there’s the cost of the test. Boston police and the district attorney’s office split the $120,000 bill.

“It’s a huge issue,” Becker said. “You look at our budget right now, we had to cut money from our budget last year – about $150,000. Even if you cut that (bill) in half, you take it down to $60,000, $50,000, that’s a big hit for our office.”

A lab in Germany developed the test in 2013 for paternity tests — to figure which identical twin was a baby’s father.

“To get a private entity to do it, it may take some special funding we need to take a look at,” Becker said.

**Correction: An earlier version of this article stated the rape happened about 28 years ago. It actually happened more than 17 years ago in November 1999.