Man pleads guilty in 42-year-old cold case rape

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Michael Dean Tate

COVINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ/Press Release) – A 78-year-old man has pleaded guilty to rape, sodomy and kidnapping stemming from an attack on a Park Hills woman in Kenton County 42 years ago.

According to prosecutors, Michael Dean Tate pleaded guilty to assaulting the woman outside her home in the early morning hours of Oct. 1, 1978. Tate was arrested at his home on November 14, 2019 by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation after Boone County Sheriff’s Department “Cold Case” Detectives Coy Cox and Timothy Adams obtained a warrant for his arrest just over 41 years after the offense.

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Cox and Adams began looking into the Park Hills attack in 2017 after noticing similarities to an unsolved Boone County homicide case already under investigation.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders said, “This case is surreal. It’s like a real life version of Law & Order or CSI,” referring to popular, but often times unrealistic, television crime dramas.

At the time of the original investigation, Park Hills Police recovered a fingerprint from the victim’s car door that was closed by her assailant during the crime.

“Fingerprinting was relatively new back in those days,” said Sanders, “And the database of prints law enforcement had available for comparison was limited, so it’s no surprise there wasn’t a match at the time. But when the Boone County detectives re-submitted the print almost forty years later, they got a match to Michael Tate.”

Sanders said Cox and Adams then began meticulously coming through public databases looking to corroborate the fingerprint evidence.

“Their investigation confirmed Tate’s presence in the Cincinnati area in the mid-70’s when he was working as a traveling salesman,” said Sanders.

Sanders said the detectives also had to do an extensive investigation to track down the victim who had moved thousands of miles away from Kentucky.

Cox and Adams flew to the victim’s home to interview her. She told the detectives she didn’t know anyone named Michael Tate and there was no reason his fingerprints would be on her car if he wasn’t her attacker.

The detectives found the car was kept in a garage and had not been serviced near in time to the attack so there was no innocent explanation for Tate’s fingerprint to be on the victim’s vehicle.

On November 13, 2019, Cox and Adams traveled to Tate’s home in Union County, Georgia. During a lengthy interview, Tate admitted to having raped a woman in Kentucky, near Covington, but did not know the exact location or date.

Sanders said the detectives recorded Tate admitting he grabbed a woman from behind as she exited her car in a garage, forced her into his own car, and drove her to another location where he sexually assaulted her.

Tate went on to admit to additional sexual assaults in at least two other states. Cox and Adams have since been in contact with multiple police agencies looking to match Tate’s confession to other unsolved rapes but to date no other charges have been filed.

Sanders, who prosecuted the case alongside First Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Casey Burns, said, “This is some of the most amazing police work I’ve ever seen!” Sanders applauded the tenacity of the cold case detectives as well as Boone County Sheriff Mike Helmig’s commitment to justice for victims of sexual assault.

“Some police executives would have balked at the cost of this investigation, especially considering it was from another jurisdiction,” said Sanders, “But I can’s say enough good things about Sheriff Helmig and his team. They relentlessly pursued this rapist until he was brought to justice. I’m still amazed with their work. They’re fantastic!”

Sanders and Burns are recommending a 12-year sentence which would make Tate almost 90 years old by the time he serves out.

“We consulted the victim every step of the way,” Sanders said. “She was very relieved to learn she would not have to return to Kentucky and relive this nightmare she has spent over 40 years trying to forget. Most of all she was very appreciative of the detectives who took up the investigation and continued to fight for her even though four decades had passed,” Sanders said.

Tate will appear before Kenton Circuit Judge Patricia Summe for formal, final sentencing on January 12, 2021 at 3:30 p.m.