WARNING: Some of the details in this story could be alarming to some readers.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — He is a convicted rapist who targeted women and children in Memphis, Tennessee. Why will he soon walk free after police connected him to more violent attacks?
“[Police] didn’t care when they were there that night. It just took me years to figure that out,” said Leila, who was a victim of a rape years ago.
Nexstar’s WREG doesn’t typically identify rape victims, but she wanted to show her face. For her protection, we’re only calling her by her first name.
It happened June 24, 1993, in her Midtown, Tennessee, home. She was 22 at the time. She woke up to a man’s voice and a knife pressed to her neck.
“I was defenseless,” she said. “He came through a bathroom window he had pried open. I was told not to move. Do what he said.”
Her roommate was out of town. There was no one to help her.
“He proceeded to cut my shirt off. Stuff it in my mouth, wrap it around my face. Put something over my eyes,” he said. “Raped me multiple times. All throughout my house.”
She never saw his face but felt his presence. He was bigger, overpowering, and aggressive.
“You’re dying. I was thinking of any way I could get out of that situation. The only way to do it was to comply. I made a good choice because I’m sitting here with you,” Leila said.
He eventually left her tied up on her cold floor.
“I realized he was gone. I got up, and I somehow got unbound. Found a spare phone and called the police, who took 22 minutes to get to me,” she said.
Officers asked her questions. They dusted for prints and took her to get a sexual assault examination. Police vowed to find the man who attacked her.
But days turned into weeks, and no arrest. She asked the detective about her rape kit.
“He looked right at me and said, ‘I’m very sorry, but it was inconclusive.’ I took that at his word. 100 percent. Never questioned it again,” she said.
Leila told us her attacker made her try to get rid of his DNA, and she figured he was successful. She said it took more than two decades to find out that wasn’t the case.
‘Oh my God, they didn’t test my kit’
WREG Investigators dug through our archives from 1993, around the time of Leila’s attack. On Jan. 1, 1994, an arrest made our news.
“Police say a man stalked Frayser areas like this one,” April Thompson reported back then.
23-year-old Marvin Hugghis was nabbed for four aggravated rapes and sexual battery. One of the victims was 11 years old.
The attacks happened in Frayser between September and December 1993. The victim’s stories were very similar to Leila’s. He cut the phone line and used a weapon.
“The entrance was gained to these particular residents through a window, normally a bathroom window or a window in the rear,” Memphis Police Department (MPD) Deputy Chief Fred Warner said at the time.
Hugghis also broke into other homes, and when one woman called 911, he fired shots at her. He pleaded guilty to the crimes and was sentenced to 32 years in prison.
MPD never contacted Leila about him, despite her story sounding so similar. She was forced to move on.
She spent years afraid of the dark, of being alone and not knowing where her attacker was.
“Derailing is the word I use a lot. It is a death. Rape is a death,” she said. “I was terrified to be in a house at night. I couldn’t walk to my car. I slept with a knife under my pillow.”
Then in 2013, 20 years after she was raped, she was reminded of that night again.
She learned what WREG Investigators first uncovered. Memphis Police stuffed 12,000 rape kits dating back decades into storage closets. It created a backlog of critical evidence never tested for DNA and allowed violent offenders to walk free.
“It was like my head exploded from heat. It was like, ‘Oh my God, they didn’t test my kit,'” she said. “It’s so damn infuriating.”
Leila called Memphis Police.
“I put a Post-it note on my mirror. I tried to call them as regularly as I could stomach, ” she said.
She finally got hold of someone in MPD, who verified her rape kit was never tested.
‘There has been a match’
That person continued to keep her updated. In July 2018, she got an email stating, “There has been a match.”
“I didn’t recognize his name. I didn’t recognize his face,” Leila said.
But you’ll recognize it. Police records named her suspected attacker as Marvin Hugghis, the man mentioned earlier who pleaded guilty to four aggravated rapes and the sexual battery of a child after Leila’s attack.
“I must have asked in a million ways, why? You had the evidence right there,” she said.
Through a source in the criminal justice system and documents obtained through the Public Records Act, we found out MPD matched Hugghis to DNA found not only in Leila’s rape kit but two other women and a high school student who also had rape kits in the backlog.
What Leila found out next made her feel even worse. The statute of limitations for her case has run out.
Under Tennessee law, there’s a limited window of time to charge a suspected rapist. In Leila’s case, it was 15 years, so the statute expired in 2008. That means no one will stand trial in criminal court for her rape.
“When we know who did it because the DNA is conclusive and wasn’t tested by any fault of my own, right? I should be given, I deserve … I deserve to take him to court,” she said.
Hugghis had a parole hearing in 2018 where he was asked how he chose his victims. He wouldn’t answer that and wouldn’t admit to the rapes to which he pleaded guilty.
“I did not touch that girl, OK?” he told the parole board. “I know I have done bad things, you know, in my lifetime. I’m not asking people to feel sorry for me. I do feel like I deserve a chance to show that changes have been made.”
We checked his prison records. He received 45 disciplinary write-ups, including possession of a deadly weapon and fighting. Five more were sexual in nature, ranging from indecent exposure to sexual misconduct.
Hugghis was denied parole. However, next week his sentence expires. He will be released on Nov. 2.
“They don’t care,” Leila said. She told WREG she will continue to fight for justice for herself and other survivors out there.
“So I can help change things. There’s got to be a way, right?” she said.
MPD never responded to our repeated requests for an interview.
What about the other victims?
Two sources tell us MPD will not notify them, even though they have a DNA match, because the statute of limitations has expired in their cases as well.
That is the precedent so far, but Leila is fighting for change. She wants a policy that forces MPD to contact every victim who gets a match.
There is a hotline that victims can call for an update: 901-636-3438.