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Man cleared of ’72 slaying facing federal charges

A 78-year-old man recently acquitted of bludgeoning to death a blind homemaker in upstate New York in 1972 will be charged in federal court with failure to register as a sex offender in Florida.

Willie James Kimble, a twice-convicted sexual predator, will be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Rochester next week on a charge that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, Monroe County prosecutor Sandra Doorley revealed in court Monday.

“This seems to be a case where the federal government should handle it,” she told reporters after a brief hearing.

Kimble showed no reaction. His attorney did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Kimble was acquitted March 10 of sexually assaulting and battering to death Annie Mae Cray, 52, at her home in Rochester on Oct. 29, 1972. It was one of the nation’s oldest cold-case murders to come to trial.

In 2009, police obtained a DNA match from a semen-stained blanket that had been kept in police storage for almost 38 years. Kimble, who is distantly related to the Crays, skipped town while the murder was being re-examined. But after a months-long search, he was tracked down in his native Sarasota, Fla., in January 2010.

A Rochester jury deliberated for four hours before clearing Kimble of second-degree murder. But he was immediately ordered held on a state charge of violating his sexual-offender status. The upcoming federal charge would supersede the state charge, which carries a maximum sentence range of one year and four months to four years in prison.

Kimble spent two decades in prison, including seven years for the attempted rape of a 6-year-old girl in July 1973 and 10 years for raping a 17-year-old girl in 1981.

Police said Cray answered a knock on the front door at 6 that morning, evidently recognizing the caller’s voice because she was ultra-careful about strangers in a poor neighborhood. Her husband, Ezra, said the intruder clubbed him unconscious with a firewood log that was used to crush his wife’s skull.

Ezra Cray, who died in 1990, told police he didn’t see his attacker but suspected Kimble, a cousin by marriage who lived a few blocks away. But even though police poked holes in an alibi Kimble provided in January 1973, they were unable to find physical evidence tying him to the killing.

Genetic profiling came into widespread use in crime detection in the 1990s. While DNA evidence has been used to overturn 86 wrongful murder convictions since 1989, it has become an equally vital tool in closing dozens of murder cases many years after they happen, forensic science experts say.