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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Philly Police Solve Cold Case of Murdered Girl

Aired July 8, 2003 - 19:20   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it was considered one of Philadelphia's great unsolved crimes, but now police say they've solved the 1987 murder of a young girl who was raped and brutally murdered in her own bedroom.
Jason Carroll has some new developments in the case. He joins us live from Philadelphia -- Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: New developments, indeed. Sources close to the case now tell us that the lead suspect, who is now in custody, signed a written statement allegedly admitting to the crime.

Allegedly, he told police that he went to the home to rob it, ran into the little girl, Heather and then he just snapped.

In terms of the Coffin family, this is a case that is now closed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL (voice-over): Her death was a mystery for 16 years. Heather Coffin was 10 years old when someone quietly broke into her bedroom in the middle of the night, raped and then strangled her.

Detectives at the time questioned a number of people: friends, neighbors, even Coffin's parents, who were sleeping in the next room when the murder happened. But their leads went nowhere. Until now.

SYLVESTER JOHNSON, POLICE COMMISSIONER: This individual defendant was on our radar screen at the time this thing happened. I understand he'd been interviewed two or three times before, but didn't have physical evidence to tie him into the case until we got the results back that we have now.

CARROLL: Early Wednesday, police arrested Raymond Sheehan at his Philadelphia home, located just a few miles from where the Coffins live. He's 38 years old and a former friend of the Coffin family.

(on camera) According to police, Sheehan had provided them with blood and hair samples back in 1988, although they say he was not a suspect at the time. Detectives now say new DNA technology enabled them to make a match now that they could not have made years ago.

JOHNSON: The fact that DNA technology has caught up with our investigation is tremendous. CARROLL: Heather's sisters, then 7 and 4, were sleeping in the same room when she was killed. Today, they are relieved and feel their family has finally been vindicated.

DANIELLE COFFIN, SISTER: My dad went through so much. Everybody saying that it was my dad. Everybody saying, when I would go to school, people saying, "Oh, yes, you're the sister that your dad killed your other sister."

KIM COFFIN, SISTER: It's not anger, I don't think, now. I think everyone's relieved. It's just a matter of who did it, why they did it, and, I mean, what's he going to get for doing it?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: And we did try to reach out to Sheehan, but were unable to do so. At this point, it is unclear if he has retained an attorney. But according to the D.A.'s office at this point, he has not yet entered a plea -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jason Carroll, live with the new information. Thanks very much.

Heather Coffin was a fifth grader when she was murdered. If she'd lived, she'd be in her mid 20s today, perhaps married with a family of her own.

For 16 years, her parents, sisters and her brother lived with the anguish of knowing her murder was unsolved and that the killer was out there. Now they hope today's arrest means justice will finally be done.

Randall Coffin is Heather Coffin's father. He joins us from Philadelphia.

Randall, thank you so much for being with us.

RANDALL COFFIN, FATHER: You're welcome.

COOPER: Your thoughts on hearing Jason Carroll reporting that sources tell him a written statement has been made by this man, confessing to the crime?

R. COFFIN: Yes. I have heard.

And number one, I want to thank the press and the homicide that they have solved the case. I'm -- I am surprised who it really is, but yes, I knew him, and I never knew that I would ever know anybody could come in, rape, strangle and kill your daughter and I hope he's looking at me, that they give him a TV to look at me. This is all I have left.

And my children don't have to put up with people saying that I am the murderer anymore. It gives me a little bit of relief.

God has been good. He has answered my prayers, and I pray time and time again, and I am a strong believer that your prayers are answered once you let God come into your heart.

COOPER: Randall, I understand you heard this, all of this story breaking by watching television this morning.

R. COFFIN: Yes, my daughter called me this morning. This was Danielle, so upset that I didn't know what was going on. I was not notified or the mother was notified. And I almost passed out myself when I first heard it on TV this morning at 7:30.

And then off and on, I had three, six, and every other reporter call me and homicide finally responded back around 11 this morning. And they always promised me that they would call and let us know, that we would be the number one that they would notify first.

And it's been a long haul. I have no hate, no grudges against them. Thank God they solved the case.

I don't want him to have the death penalty. Give him 17 years of pure hell, and then give him the death sentence.

Ray, that's coming from me. I know you've got to remember me and I want you to remember her every damn day that goes by, as long as they let you breathe on earth.

I have not too much more to say.

COOPER: Randall, this man who is now in custody, who apparently has made a written statement, who is accused of this crime, this Sheehan man, you knew him. He'd been in your house?

R. COFFIN: Yes.

COOPER: He'd hung out with you?

R. COFFIN: Yes, he had.

COOPER: What was he like?

R. COFFIN: Well, he had tried to kill me once. He almost strangled me to death. And he had a rotten attitude that I caught on him, snappy, smart with people. And my children.

COOPER: Did you ever suspect him?

R. COFFIN: Pardon me?

COOPER: Did you ever suspect him?

R. COFFIN: He was one of the three that I thought probably did it. And he's one out of the three that I haven't seen for almost 18 years. I never caught him on the street.

And if I had, Ray, I don't think I'd be here standing. I'd be put her myself. Because I would have killed you instantly, the way you did my daughter. I hope you rot in hell, you bastard. COOPER: Randall, I can't imagine what the day has been like for you. And I appreciate you coming out and talking with us. I know it's been a long day and I appreciate you coming and talking with us. Thank you, Randall Coffin.

COFFIN: Thank you.

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