Commonwealth v. Alvin Lyman Tawney
Pulaski County Circuit Court
Case Numbers CR99-845, CR99-846, CR99-847, CR99-871and
CR00-726, CR00-1046, CR00-1048
Cases Presented by K. Mike Fleenor, Jr.
Multiple Sex Crimes, Serving 66 years.
Alvin Lyman Tawney, despite his relatively young age of 20, was one of the most dangerous sexual predators in recent Pulaski County history. Starting out as a “peeping Tom,” Tawney selected his victims after watching them for weeks. Finally one evening in 1999 after waiting for her husband to go to work, he broke into this first victim’s home through a basement window. From there he came up the basement steps and found her asleep on the living room couch. He went into the kitchen, retrieved a butcher knife and a pillowcase from the bedroom. Tawney then put the pillowcase over his victim’s head, bound her hands and cut off her underwear with the butcher knife. He raped her several times, but before he left, Tawney said he would be watching her and if he saw the police come around her house he would come back to kill her.
Pulaski County Sheriff’s Investigators canvassed the neighborhood and ultimately went to Tawney’s residence. When asked to see him, his mother said that Alvin was in his bedroom asleep. Investigators went to his bedroom and found him wearing underwear with a distinctive pattern that had been seen by the victim during a brief period when the pillowcase fell off her head. Tawney was questioned about the incident, a blood sample was obtained and his DNA was found to match certain fluids left at the crime scene. After a plea of guilty to Burglary, Abduction, Rape and Sodomy, the Court sentenced Tawney to 25 years and 6 months to serve.
Almost two years prior to this incident, there was a somewhat similar crime which had gone unsolved. This earlier case involved a late night burglary and rape of the female homeowner. On a hunch, Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Fleenor and Investigator Brian Wade of the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office requested the Forensic Lab to compare evidence from the unsolved rape with the DNA profile of Alvin Tawney. The DNA data bank was not yet in existence and random “cold hits” matching known criminals with unsolved crimes was still years away. In order to compare evidence from different cases, a specific request had to be made. Fleenor and Wade’s suspicions were correct when they were notified that Tawney’s DNA was present at the unsolved rape.
Tawney was indicted again for burglary and rape related to the previously unsolved crime, based primarily on the newly matched DNA evidence. Tawney’s attorney, however, objected to the DNA being used in a second case when the language of the Virginia Statute read that once a DNA profile is established, that it “can not be used for any other purpose.” Although it was certainly not the intent of the legislature to prohibit the Commonwealth from using this evidence to prosecute a serial rapist, the Court felt compelled to suppress the evidence. Not to be stymied by this set back, Fleenor simply moved for a new blood sample to be drawn from the defendant in order to use a “fresh” sample that would not violate the Virginia statute. Ultimately Tawney was convicted of the second rape and burglary, receiving another 40 years and 6 months. The two sentences were ordered to run consecutively for a total of 66 years. Tawney is currently serving that 66 year sentence at the Augusta Correctional Center.
In the aftermath of this case, Fleenor contacted then Delegate Benny Keister and the two worked to have the Virginia statute changed to delete the language prohibiting the use of DNA evidence in subsequent criminal prosecutions.