Cold case: Charges laid 20 years after grandmother beaten, sexually assaulted

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Suspect in 1996 sexual assault dies awaiting trial

A man has finally been arrested and charged in a 20 year-old cold case that made seniors afraid to be alone in their own homes, according to New Westminster police.

On Oct. 4, 1996, a man broke into the home of Dorothy Darnel, 79, and "viciously attacked" her in her home when she was sleeping, police said.

She was beaten so severely, her cheekbone was shattered and she lost sight in one eye. When she lost consciousness, the attacker sexually assaulted her, according to police.

"The case resonated throughout the community," said Chief Const. Dave Jones, who was part of the investigation at the time.

"There were a lot of seniors who were then afraid to live in their own homes. In fact, Ms. Darnel never returned to her own home."

'We never gave up on it'

Despite a $12,000 reward, eight officers assigned full time, and hundreds of tips from around the province, the case remained unsolved.

At the time, New Westminster investigators collected DNA evidence at the scene and entered it into a database.

For 20 years, they didn't have a match.

Last year, Coquitlam RCMP collected DNA at the scene of a break and enter and got a hit in the database from the 1996 file.

James Gray, 48, of Vancouver has been arrested and charged with:

- Aggravated sexual assault.

- Break and enter.

- Forcible confinement.

- Robbery.

- Choking to overcome resistance.

- Uttering threats.

Darnel, who later gave talks to New Westminster seniors about safety in the home, died in 2015. Her family is aware of the charges, said Jones.

"Her family … will know we never gave up on it."

Jones thanked the Coquitlam RCMP for finding the DNA evidence, and the officers investigating the case today — none of whom had been involved in the 90s team.

"The passion and efforts we saw, they took it personally."