NEW YORK — Nearly 14 years ago, Joyce Williams was found naked and strangled on the rooftop landing at a Manhattan housing project. She was 15 weeks pregnant at the time and mother to nine children. No one was ever charged in her death — until now.
On Monday, Manhattan prosecutors filed a murder charge against a man who is already serving 67 years in prison in a remarkably similar killing just three months before Williams' death on July 9, 1998. John Price, 49, was found using DNA evidence during an exhaustive review of nearly 3,000 cold case files dating back to the 1970s ordered by District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, prosecutors said.
Price appeared in court, but no defense attorney was present; the judge set an arraignment for Jan. 26.
Price was convicted of murder and rape in the April 22, 1998 death of Pamela Watson in the Bronx. Watson was found naked, assaulted and strangled on the rooftop landing of a large apartment building. She had been raped and sodomized. When Price was sent to prison, his DNA was taken and placed in the state data bank.
He has a lengthy, violent record. In 1998 alone, he was convicted of raping and sodomizing a woman on March 4, murdering Watson, robbing another woman on May 1, and assaulting another woman on June 17, according to state records.
He was sent to state prison in June 2001, according to the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, where he is serving out his sentence.
Meanwhile, Williams' case remained unsolved. Her body had been found on the rooftop landing of a building at the Wagner Houses, wearing a bra dangling from one arm, and socks. Her clothing had been taken from the scene and tossed in the garbage compactor, prosecutors said.
When the cold case unit came across her case, they analyzed evidence from the autopsy — fingernail scrapings — in November 2011 and the DNA matched Price's, prosecutors said. Detectives re-investigated evidence and did new interviews, then presented the case to a grand jury. Prosecutors said the case is still being investigated.
Six of Williams' nine children were in court Monday.
Vance noted there are nearly 38,000 unidentified DNA profiles in the state databank. He urged the passage of a bill that would expand the database to include anyone convicted of a crime. Right now, the state collects DNA from those convicted of felonies or certain misdemeanors.
"Thousands of crime victims are waiting for justice, convicted offenders stand to be exonerated, and scores of future crimes could be prevented," if legislation is enacted, Vance said.