DNA tests on old evidence leads to conviction in 1980s rapes

It has been more than two decades since a man known to Kansas City residents as the Westport rapist terrorized the city, assaulting at least a dozen women over 16 months.

Shy Bland was about 30 then, thin and muscular. Now 52, Bland looked soft and old in his blue checkered shirt as he awaited a jury’s verdict in his trial for those crimes.

Thursday evening the jurors found Bland guilty of 12 rapes, five attempted rapes, seven sodomies, four assaults and three robberies.

After the verdict, four women sitting on the front row in the Jackson County courtroom exchanged hugs. For the women, all victims of Bland, the verdict had been long-awaited.

Three years ago, the police lab matched Bland’s DNA to evidence from the old cases. The connection was made just before Bland became eligible for parole on a 115-year sentence for 1987 convictions for another rape and other crimes. On Thursday, assistant prosecutor Kevin Harrell told jurors that Bland at first was confident and relaxed when police asked about the rapes, and he denied knowing any of the women. But then they told him about the DNA matches.

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