The cops got their man, 26 years later. Violent career felon Steven Carter was hit with the maximum 25-years-to-life sentence Monday for strangling a woman in Harlem’s St. Nicholas Park — in 1986.
The cold-case hinged on DNA from skin and semen samples found under Antoinette Bennett’s fingernails and in her leggings, prosecutors said.
Making the crime even more brutal, Bennett, 26, was stabbed repeatedly in the face after she was suffocated, officials said.
A lawyer for the 50-year-old Harlem man — who at 16 was convicted of raping a teacher in jail — had argued that Bennett was a prostitute, and promised to appeal.
“There is nothing mitigating at all in the record,” Judge Bonnie Wittner said before sentencing.
“She was manually strangled, stabbed five times, with her body exposed at a children’s playground.”
Wittner went on to list Carter’s 26 criminal convictions — including five felonies — and five parole violations.
In 1978, while in a juvenile jail, Carter was convicted of pummeling and raping a teacher who was beaten so badly her colleagues didn’t know who she was when she ran to them for help.
“She was so disfigured by his repeated blows to her face that her colleagues did not recognize her when she came pleading with them for help,” said Melissa Mourges, head of the Manhattan District Attorney’s cold case unit.
“That attack tells many frightening things about this defendant’s character, the most disturbing of which is that he knew he would get caught — he was incarcerated, and he attacked someone who knew him by name, and yet his impulse was so strong, and his willingness to control that impulse so weak, that he launched that blitz attack on a woman whose only mistake was to try and help troubled teens like himself.”
Bennett was similarly disfigured — stabbed through the cheek three times.
She fought for her life, lodging some of his DNA under her skin. His semen was also found on her leggings, leading prosecutors to believe that Carter raped her or tried to.
He nearly got away.
Carter was nabbed at Rikers Island last year, just a week before he was set to be released on a weapons possession charge.
Carter continued to profess his innocence, in spite of the DNA evidence.
“I did not commit this crime,” he told the judge. “I’m innocent of all charges.”
Mourges said they specifically honed in on Bennett’s open murder case because of the personal nature of the crime and the increased likelihood of DNA evidence.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner had found male DNA on a fingernail clipping taken during the autopsy. Investigators fed the genetic profile into the CODIS database — Combined DNA Index System— and it was a match for Carter, Mourges said.
“DNA technology has provided a revolution in law enforcement, and the DA’s office decided to use that technology to solve crimes like these that lay in cold case files for decades,” Mourges told the judge
Carter’s lawyer, Lori Cohen, vowed to appeal the conviction, arguing that the judge refused to allow evidence she said shows Bennett had gotten in an argument with her sister’s boyfriend the night of her death.
She said there was an “innocent” explanation why her client’s DNA was found on the victim.
“Ms. Bennett had indeed traded sex for drugs,” Cohen said.
The clipping of fingernails from the autopsy and semen on Bennett’s stocking both matched Carter, Mourges said.
“The statistics were staggering. The DNA profile matching Steven Carter … was so rare they would expect to see that profile in fewer than one in greater than a trillion people — over a hundred times the population of the planet Earth.”