Dogged pursuit of the evidence resulted in a surprise arrest in a series of unsolved rape cases.
Police officers usually will be the first to concede that not only are their jobs not non-stop excitement, but also that the work can sometimes be quite dull.
Even by that standard, the idea of spending endless hours searching for a handful of names from a list of nearly 38,000 gives new meaning to the words mind-numbing. Still, that's the price John Lockard of the Urbana Police Department was willing to pay to come up with a lead suspect in four related rapes that occurred in two states over a 14-year period.
For starters, kudos to Lockard, a retired patrol officer and investigator who now works as a civilian handling evidence for his old department. His investigative work, all on his own initiative and time, was exemplary. It epitomizes the police motto, to serve and protect.
That's nothing new to Lockard. During his long career, he was highly competent and extremely conscientious, two qualities that were on display in this complicated criminal investigation.
Lockard's triumph was the result of luck, but defined in this case as what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
Urbana Police were informed in June that DNA from a 2007 rape in Broward County, Fla., matched the DNA recovered from three rapes that occurred in Champaign-Urbana in 1993 and 1995. In other words, it was the same assailant in all four cases.
Re-examining the description of the suspect – a well-spoken, well-dressed black man – Lockard concluded that the suspect could well be a University of Illinois student from Florida. Lockard's hunch was right on the money.
But he didn't know that at the time. It was only after Lockard spent hours poring over the names of 37,665 UI students from the 1993-94 UI phone book that he identified 54 students from Florida to check out. Running their names through a computer data base, Lockard eventually settled on former UI football player Steve Feagin, who lived near the victims in the local cases. It turns out that Feagin also lived near the Florida victim.
When Florida authorities, acting on Lockard's information, obtained a DNA sample from Feagin, they got a match. He is now in custody and faces multiple charges of rape in Florida and Illinois.
Not surprisingly, Lockard downplays the role he played in cracking this case, contending that "it's not about me, it's about the victims."
That's true. But Lockard made this case, and in doing so he has earned the public's gratitude.