Alleged widow rapist faces trial 30 years after Northampton case was first reported

Donovan Vernonis standing trial for rape after DNA evidence allegedly linked him to an unsolved crime from 1986.
Donovan Vernonis standing trial for rape after DNA evidence allegedly linked him to an unsolved crime from 1986.

A man accused of breaking into a Northampton widow's home in 1986 and raping her faced a jury for the first time yesterday.

Donovan Vernon is standing trial for the historic sex offence after police reopened the so-called cold case in 2016.

On the night of October 11, 1986, he is alleged to have broken into a ground floor window of a 68-year-old woman's home wearing a ski-mask. Once inside, the prosecution say he raped her.

Police say DNA evidence on the victim's night-dress links the defendant to the crime.

However, Vernon denies the charges, claiming he and the pensioner were having a consensual sexual relationship in 1986, when he was just 18. The victim has since died.

Yesterday, a jury at Northampton Crown Court heard from surviving family members.

Taking the stand, the victim's son was asked by prosecutor Guy Ladenburg, whether he ever recalled his mother having a relationship with an 18-year-old male following her husband's death.

"No," he replied.

He was then asked whether having a relationship with a man more than 40 years her junior would have been "consistent with (his) mother's character and habits."

"Absolutely not," he replied.

However, in cross-examination, Sean Minihan, defending, said the pensioner had initially told police her attacker was a white man.

It was only sometime after the incident that she described her attacker as black, he said.

Speaking via video link, the victim's niece recounted a conversation she had about the alleged rape to the court.

"She said he was wearing a ski mask," the niece said.

"The material totally covered his face except for the eyes, the nostrils and his mouth.

"She saw from the opening that he may have been black."

The court is expected to hear forensic evidence when the trial resumes on Monday.