SAN JOSE — A man serving a lifetime prison sentence has been charged in the 1983 rape and killing of Tara Marowski, marking the second time he faces prosecution for her death, after authorities said newer DNA analysis methods tie him closer to the crime than when they initially charged him a decade ago and later dropped the case.
Christopher Melvin Holland, 67, was arraigned on a new murder charge last week, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office. The charge carries an allegation that Holland raped the 21-year-old Marowski, who was found dead on April 2, 1983 in the back seat of her car on a residential street in West San Jose near the Campbell border.
Holland is already serving a term of life in prison without the possibility of parole after being convicted in 2015 of raping, stabbing and strangling 17-year-old Cynthia Munoz in a Campbell park four months after Marowski was killed.
When Holland was charged with Marowski’s death for the second time, on Aug. 9, he was being held in the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility in Corcoran, according to state prison records. He was transferred to and booked at the Santa Clara County Main Jail on Aug. 25.
Marowski was last seen alive on March 28, 1983, leaving a bar with two men right around closing time. She was found dead five days later in her car, which was parked on Corola Avenue off San Tomas Aquino Road north of West Hamilton Avenue. Santa Clara County Sheriff’s deputies found Marowski partially clothed and positioned in a way “that could be consistent with recent sexual intercourse or sexual assault,” according to a DA investigative summary accompanying the new murder charge. A pair of blue jeans was wrapped around her neck.
Assistant Medical Examiner-Coroner Joseph O’Hara — who recently reviewed Marowski’s autopsy, crime-scene photographs and police reports — concluded they indicated that she had been “assaulted and strangled to death with her clothing,” according to his account in the DA summary. But O’Hara also stated that specific evidence of “injuries, if any, were obscured by body decomposition.”
A bartender who spoke to investigators in 1984 offered a partial identification of a suspect, saying one of the men who left the bar with Marowski resembled Holland, according to the summary.
In 2007 — the year Holland was charged with killing Munoz — the DA’s office spoke to Holland’s brother, who reportedly told investigators that Holland woke him up one night after Marowski disappeared and told him he had left the bar with Marowski and left her in a car. During that exchange, investigators said, “Holland also asked his brother how long semen could remain in a dead person.”
Four years later, while Holland was in jail awaiting trial for the Munoz killing, he was charged with murder in Marowski’s death. The charge was based in part on the county crime lab’s analysis of sperm collected from samples of Marowski’s pubic hair. That 2011 analysis found DNA from at least three people, and that Marowski and Holland being two of those people was “780 times more likely” than any other combination of sources. The investigative summary added that “Holland was the major contributor” to a DNA mixture of non-sperm cells recovered from the hair sample that also included DNA from at least two other males.
Prosecutors sought to try Holland for the Marowski and Munoz killings simultaneously, but a judge separated the cases after the Public Defender’s Office argued that the weaker Marowski case would be unfairly strengthened by the Munoz case, which was based in part on semen linked to Holland found on Munoz’s body.
The Munoz trial included testimony from four women who testified that Holland enjoyed hurting them during sexual intercourse — including punching, choking, and using a knife to scare or prick them — that resembled the trauma on Munoz.
After Holland was convicted, he was prosecuted for Marowski’s killing, but a judge excluded all of the evidence from the Munoz trial. Following that ruling, the district attorney’s office dismissed the murder charge, but had the option of re-filing it in the future.
Last year, the DA’s office commissioned a new analysis of the DNA evidence in Marowski’s case. The contracted firm, Cybergenetics, used “a new method of probabilistic genotyping,” which has increasingly been utilized in cases with small amounts of DNA that don’t meet traditional examination thresholds. Instead of declaring a clear DNA match, the algorithm-based analysis determines the likelihood of a match.
Though use of the method, based on proprietary code, has been challenged by defense attorneys and academics because of the difficulty to independently scrutinize it at trial, the figures it produces are striking: Cybergenetics reported that after comparing sperm cell DNA from the Marowski sample to Holland’s DNA, and accounting for three DNA contributors, the chances of a match to Holland are “53.1 quadrillion times greater than a coincidental match to an unrelated Caucasian person,” and that “only one in over 233 quadrillion people would match as strongly.”
A quadrillion is one billion multiplied by one million.
The new DNA analysis is the sole new evidence underpinning the second murder charge against Holland in Marowski’s death. To the DA’s office, it’s a testament to a dogged pursuit of unresolved cases.
“We do not forget violent crimes and we do not forget victims,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement. “We never gave up on Tara Marowski.”