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Virginia man charged in 1994 cold case murder of woman at Denver motel

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Posted at 12:51 PM, Jun 25, 2021

DENVER – A 58-year-old Virginia man has been extradited back to Denver to face charges in the December 1994 cold case murder of a 36-year-old woman.

Steven Cumberbatch, 58, has been charged by Denver prosecutors with two counts of first-degree murder in the killing of 36-ear-old Rita Desjardine at the Broadway Plaza Motel nearly 27 years ago.

A worker at the motel had gone to check on Desjardine on Dec. 6 but thought she was only sleeping. The next day, when workers again got no answer from her room at the motel, they again went inside and investigated further, and found her unclothed in the bed, with visible bruising, swelling and blood, according to an affidavit for Cumberbatch’s arrest.

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Steven Cumberbatch, 58, has been charged by Denver prosecutors with two counts of first-degree murder in the killing of 36-ear-old Rita Desjardine at the Broadway Plaza Motel nearly 27 years ago.

Police investigators also found after arriving that a leg had been broken off inside the hotel room and that there were both men and women’s clothes inside the room. They also pulled a palm print and a finger print from blood on the bed’s bottom sheet and found evidence on a bottle of gin in the room.

The medical examiner found Desjardine’s cause of death to by asphyxia by smothering and also pulled swabs from her body, according to the affidavit. As police investigated, a witness told them they had knocked on the motel door where Desjardine was found dead on the day she was killed and saw a Black man’s hand poke through the curtains, then saw a Black man leaving the motel room shortly afterward.

In November 1995, detectives in Denver said the palm and finger print details were not defined enough to make a comparison, and the bed sheet they were made on was sent to the FBI.

Nine years later, in November 2004, a Denver Police Department captain asked the crime lab to test items found in the motel room for DNA.

In March 2018, according to the affidavit, detectives took swabs from the gin bottle and another item and submitted the samples to the Combined DNA Index System, which came back a couple months later with a hit to Cumberbatch in Virginia. Denver arrest records showed he had been arrested about a month before the murder two blocks away from the Broadway Plaza Motel.

Later that year, a pair of men’s shorts was also 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.

The special agent and the supervisors of the DPD crime lab’s latent print unit went to the prison where Cumberbatch was housed at the time and obtained the swabs and prints, which were matched to existing evidence and other latent prints, according to the affidavit.

Meanwhile, DPD worked to exclude five other people who had been persons of interest in the case, including one man who was originally arrested but whose case the district attorney refused to accept.

The detective who wrote the affidavit said the DNA evidence linking Cumberbatch to the crime was enough to submit charges to the district attorney’s office. The DA’s Office said that a $500,000 grant from the National Institute of Justice to help solve cold cases with DNA was crucial to this case.

“This federal funding was key to building the case that led to charging Steven Cumberbatch with the murder of Rita Desjardine,” said Denver District Attorney Beth McCann.