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Suspect in 1994 cold case found guilty of killing woman in Denver motel room

Posted at 11:43 AM, Jun 28, 2023

DENVER — A Denver jury found a 61-year-old man guilty in a cold case in which a murdered woman was found in a Denver motel room in 1994.

The jury deliberated for nine hours before finding Steven Cumberbatch, 61, guilty of murdering 36-year-old Rita DesJardine in early December 1994. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

DesJardine's body was found on Dec. 7, 1994 in a room at the Broadway Plaza Motel. Staff had checked on her the day before but thought she was sleeping. According to an affidavit, when they returned the next day and investigated further, they saw she was unclothed, bloody and had visible bruising and swelling. She was pronounced deceased at 10:30 a.m.

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In the room, Denver police found a broken hotel room table with a disconnected leg, men's and women's clothing, and a bloody palm print and fingerprint on bed sheets. Neither print was defined enough to make a comparison and the sheets were sent to the FBI in November 1995.

The medical examiner found Desjardine’s cause of death to be asphyxia by smothering, according to the affidavit.

A witness told police she had seen a Black man leaving the motel room.

As weeks turned to months, the case went cold. Years passed.

In March 2018, according to the affidavit, detectives took swabs from a gin bottle and another item that had been in the room and submitted the samples to the Combined DNA Index System, which came back a couple months later with a hit for Cumberbatch, who was living in Virginia at the time.

Denver records showed he had been arrested about a month before the murder two blocks away from the Broadway Plaza Motel.

In the summer of 2018, a pair of men’s shorts was submitted for testing, which came back in September 2019 with a partial match to Cumberbatch. The next month, a special agent with Virginia State Police authored a warrant to obtain buccal swabs and palm prints from Cumberbatch, who was incarcerated at the time.

Additional testing by the Denver Police Department’s Crime Laboratory identified the palm print on the bed sheet as Cumberbatch’s left palm.

DNA evidence linking Cumberbatch to the crime was enough to submit charges to the district attorney’s office, according to the affidavit.

In June 2021, he was extradited to Colorado to face the charges.

On Friday, he was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to life in prison.

DesJardine’s daughter, Jennifer New, thanked those who worked on the case.

“Now, finally, after 29 years, I can rest in peace knowing justice has been served here on Earth, and finally have closure. I love you mom," she said.

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