By Maxine Bernstein

The Oregonian

The young Portland woman would cruise along Burnside Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard when she was in her mid-20s, searching for her attacker.

She was 24 when she reported her rape to Portland police on the night it happened in downtown Portland, June 14, 1996.

She had led a Portland officer back to the scene of the crime, a patch of dirt beneath the Steel Bridge, where her underwear and broken glasses were discovered lying nearby.

She had gone with police to OHSU Hospital for a sex assault forensic exam. There, she gave a full account of the attack to a detective.

That was the extent of the police investigation. She didn’t hear from them again for more than two decades.

Her sex assault kit sat in the Police Bureau’s evidence room for 20 years, unanalyzed.

“Did you ever hear an answer as of what happened to the investigation?” Multnomah County prosecutor Tara Gardner asked the woman, now 47, during a recent court hearing.

“Nothing,” she said.

“Did that just leave you with a lot of questions?” Gardner continued.

“Yes,” she replied.

The woman became the sixth in Oregon to face her attacker years later after police finally tested thousands of the sex assault evidence kits that had piled up in storage.

Late last year, DNA from this woman’s kit matched the profile of a 66-year-old Portland man, who by then had racked up a lengthy criminal record.

His defense lawyer tried to undercut the state’s case by pouncing on the long passage of time since the rape. He pointed out gaps in memory, including the recollections of the initial detective, now retired, who couldn’t remember much of the case without rereading his report.

“This case is a tragedy in many ways,” said attorney Michael Rees. “One of the most painful aspects is that it went on so long.”

In 1996, the 24-year-old woman was living in Portland, working for a photo lab and had gone to Berbati’s Bar with her boyfriend and friends.

She had a couple of beers, stayed for about an hour and a half, then left. Her boyfriend had walked out earlier after they’d gotten into a fight. She went to look for him.

As she was circling the block, a man carrying a black duffel bag asked if she wanted to do some drugs with him. He said he had cocaine.

She said yes and walked with him to Waterfront Park. She had done cocaine once before and thought she’d make her boyfriend jealous if he saw that she’d gotten high. The stranger led her to the remote spot below a bridge.

“We were sitting side by side. I looked over at him and he looked at me,” she said. “And he grabbed me around the throat and started to strangle me.”

She passed out. When she awoke, her face was in the dirt, and she heard dripping.

“I realized it was blood coming out of my nose,” she said in court. She realized he was raping her. She struggled to get away, and he overpowered her and continued the sexual assault.

When he was done, he told her he had a gun. She never saw it but thought it was in his duffel. He ordered her to walk three steps away from him and not look back.

She made it back to the bar with the help of a jogger who spotted her in Waterfront Park. A waitress called police about 11:30 p.m.

Officer Carol Miller, then assigned to patrol downtown, responded and found the young woman shaken and crying, with mud and feces from the ground smeared on her clothes and hair, signs she’d been in a struggle. Miller interviewed her, then drove her back to the crime scene.

There, in a filthy space beside the westside onramp to the Steel Bridge, they noticed the fresh blood. The officer took the discarded underwear as evidence.

Miller then drove the 24-year-old to the hospital. She underwent a forensic exam. Photos were taken of bruises to her neck and chin, lower shoulder, scratches on her elbow and knees and abrasions to her lower back.

Detective Leon Lefebvre, a general assignment investigator on the afternoon shift, interviewed her.

Called to the witness stand recently, Lefebvre said he had little recollection of the case, except one thing in his report jogged his memory: The woman’s physical condition — “how disheveled and beat up that she looked,” covered in feces.

He didn’t recall much else.

The prosecutor asked, “Do you have any recollection of the fact that you ended up having to suspend this investigation?”

“No,” Lefebvre said.

“Do you remember you had to suspend this investigation?” the prosecutor continued.

Lafebvre, who retired in 2003, again said no.

The woman left Oregon not long after the assault.

“I hoped they’d find him. They never did,” she said. “I kept just going on with my life.”

“I just didn’t want him to ruin my life,” she said, “so I just tried to forget about it.”

Then in 2015, Portland Detectives Jason Christensen and Jennifer Hertzler were assigned to a new team in the Sex Crimes Unit, tasked with poring through old case files for new leads as the bureau began sending more than 2,000 of its sex assault forensic kits to an out-of-state lab for analysis.

Christensen explained during the trial the reasons police gave in the past for not sending the kits to the lab.

Sometimes detectives suspected the case couldn’t be prosecuted or a victim’s participation wasn’t assured, he said. Sometimes the lab was busy with other crime analysis or a victim wasn’t believed because of her lifestyle, drug use or uneven memory.

“I’m grateful for the change of mentality where we, law enforcement, now are victim-­centered,” he said, and not “victim-blaming.”

On June 10, 2016, nearly 20 years to the day of the woman’s attack by the Steel Bridge, they shipped by FedEx her sex assault evidence to a lab for the very first time. The kit — and thousands of others — had remained intact.

In November 2017, police got a report that DNA evidence from the swabs in the woman’s kit turned up a male DNA profile — and that profile matched the DNA profile of a man in a national forensic database. His name was Jihad Moore.

Early this year, Hertzler tracked down the woman in Colorado and called her. The detective asked her to recount what had happened to her 22 years earlier. She did.

Did she know the name Jihad Moore? No, she said.

Did she want to pursue the case for prosecution?

Yes, she said.

In February, two uniformed Portland police officers knocked on the door of Moore’s apartment.

Detectives told Moore they were following up on a 20-year-old assault. He gave shifting accounts of what may have happened.

He said he had consensual sex with the woman, then he said they never had sex, then just oral sex in exchange for cocaine.

After more than three hours of questioning, he admitted he forced the woman to have sex.

“I never thought someone would come and arrest me 22 years later for a crime,” he said.

In October, Moore went to trial before a Multnomah County judge.

The judge found Moore, now 67, guilty of two counts of first-degree rape and one count of first-degree sodomy.

The woman sat with her husband at Moore’s sentencing Friday. The attack hadn’t ruined her life, she said, but she was dismayed that Moore showed no remorse.

“I wish you were man enough to take ownership and confess and apologize or explain your actions or situation,” she told Moore, just feet from where he sat at the defense table in a wheelchair.

“You broke me down and made me question my trust and faith in people and the world, but I made a decision that day. … I chose not to let you have any more power over my life and my future. You took advantage of my trust. You should feel ashamed and sorry for what you did to me. … In the end, I win. I have the power. I won. “

Moore spoke briefly, but never acknowledged the attack or the woman.

The judge sentenced Moore to 15 years in prison. As sheriff’s deputies wheeled him from the courtroom, Moore’s sister approached the woman.

“We can’t make up for him, but we support you,” Moore’s sister said. She offered her apology and her family’s blessing and then reached out to embrace the woman her brother attacked. They hugged.

The 47-year-old survivor smiled and told her, “That seriously makes me feel so much better.”