BOSTON (CBS/AP) – As her killer was sentenced to life in prison Thursday, Lena Bruce’s friends and loved ones recalled the young woman as a “diamond” whose bright future was stolen 25 years ago.
James Witkowski, 45, was convicted Dec. 11 of first-degree murder in the 1992 killing of Lena Bruce in her South End apartment. The cold case went unsolved for a quarter century until investigators solved the case using DNA evidence.
“We have lost our parents and a brother during the wait for justice for our sister,” Bruce’s sisters wrote in a statement that was read to the court by Derrick Greene, one of Bruce’s close friends. “We will never see what more she would have accomplished in her life. We will never see her wedding day or her children who, without a doubt, would have been geniuses just like their mother.”
Bruce, a Philadelphia native, was just 21 years old. She graduated with honors from Tufts University in May 1992 and was the only black woman in her class to receive a degree in electrical engineering. Two months later, her roommate found her body in their apartment.
Prosecutors said Bruce was bound with a telephone cord, sexually assaulted, and asphyxiated by Witkowski on or about July 11, 1992.
Investigators were able to solve the case after Witkowski was ordered to submit a DNA sample in an unrelated criminal case. His DNA matched evidence from the crime scene. He was indicted in October 2015.
Witkowski and Bruce did not know each other.
Her parents passed away before the arrest, but Lena’s legacy lives on each year through an internship fund in her name.
“She was the youngest of five siblings, a susperstar student, and adored by her two older sisters and two older brothers,” Bruce’s friend, Eva Mitchell, told WBZ-TV.
Family members spoke of her continuing legacy – not just through the scholarship that bears her name through the Xi Tau Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, of which she was a member, but in the hearts of those who looked up to her as they grew up in Philadelphia many years ago.
“I remember Lena because she was nice to me,” Trina Walker wrote of Bruce. “Waving at us kids playing jacks on the steps. Turning down Cambridge Street with her slow, poised steps. I used to think she modeled or danced at school.”
“Nothing has changed, yet everything has changed,” said Bruce’s former roommate of the conviction 25 years after she found Bruce’s body in their apartment. “I am so very thankful for every individual in the criminal justice system who worked tirelessly on this case since July 12, 1992, the day Lena was taken from me, her family, her friends, and all who knew her.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)