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After five long years, the Center City rapist case came to a close last Thursday when Air Force airman Troy Graves pleaded guilty to six counts of rape and the 1998 murder of Wharton doctoral student Shannon Schieber.

After Graves apologized to his victims in a packed courtroom, Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner sentenced him to life in prison without parole for the murder, plus 60 to 120 years for the sexual assaults.

"To the city of Philadelphia and the victims and the families and friends of the victims, I'm sorry" Graves, 30, said. "My deepest sympathy to the Schieber family for their loss, and I thank them for how they've been throughout this."

The Philadelphia sentence follows the life sentence that Graves received in Fort Collins, Colo., on May 17 for the attacks of seven women there over the past year.

A guilty plea agreement, signed by Graves, Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Arlene Fisk and Assistant Defender Dan Stevenson on May 21, was also released at the time of the sentencing.

Included in the agreement is a transcript in which Graves recounts Schieber's rape and strangling in her Rittenhouse Square apartment on May 8, 1998.

"It is clear to us that on the early morning hours or late night when Shannon Schieber was murdered by strangulation by Troy Graves that she put up a desperate and futile effort to avoid precisely what happened to her," Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham said at a news conference on Thursday afternoon.

"She fought so gallantly and struggled so highly that she was able to seriously bite Mr. Graves' left ring finger... so that a substantial amount of blood was drawn."

In addition to outlining the series of events that led up to Schieber's murder, Graves' statement provides crucial information pertaining to a lawsuit that her family has filed against the Philadelphia Police for negligence.

The pending federal lawsuit argues that the police who responded to a neighbor's call at about the time of the murder and who came to Schieber's apartment missed the opportunity to save her life or catch the serial rapist by leaving the scene after only knocking on Schieber's door and leaving after no one answered.

However, Graves recalled in his testimony that, while he heard two knocks on Schieber's door -- assumed to be from neighbors -- he did not hear any knocks or cries from police officers while in the apartment.

Regardless of Graves' confession, the Schieber family is still planning on pursuing the lawsuit.

Graves "gave a version of what happened, but most of it was debunked," Sylvester Schieber, Shannon's father, said. "There's no reason why we would back off of the lawsuit."

Graves has also agreed to help law enforcement officials understand what motivates other criminals like himself and how they can be identified and captured.

In making his plea agreement, Graves avoided being sentenced to death, which many thought Abraham would seek once Graves was tried in Philadelphia.

Sylvester and Vicki Schieber, Shannon's parents, had made repeated statements opposed to Graves receiving the death penalty on the grounds of their devout Catholicism.

"That's exactly what we wanted -- we didn't want [Graves] having the flexibility of ever attacking anyone else again, and that's the satisfaction that we got," Sylvester Schieber said with regard to Graves' sentence.

Nevertheless, later in the news conference Abraham -- who has a reputation for frequently seeking the death penalty -- expressed her opinion that execution would have been a fitting punishment for Graves.

"I'm satisfied with the outcome because it puts an end to the suspense of who the Center City rapist is," Abraham said. "Troy Graves -- if I have anything to do with it -- will never walk as a free man on this earth again. The only way he will leave prison is feet first."

The Center City rapist case has a long-winded history that can be traced back to an attempted assault made on a woman near Rittenhouse Square in 1997.

Over the next two years, the same assailant raped four other women in the Rittenhouse Square area in addition to raping and murdering Shannon Schieber.

While DNA tests from evidence found at each of the crime scenes all were linked back to the Center City rapist, Graves was never linked to the assaults in Center City.

It was announced last month that the Penn Police had stopped Graves for questioning, but then released him in the early morning hours of January 1999. At that time, Graves was living in an apartment on the 4100 block of Baltimore Avenue.

Nevertheless, a major break in the case came in September of last year, when police in Fort Collins linked a series of sexual assaults that had occurred near the Colorado State University campus to the previous ones in Philadelphia.

Not only did the DNA from the Fort Collins crime scenes match the DNA tied to the Center City rape case, but the circumstances surrounding both strings of assaults were also similar. In Colorado and Philadelphia, the assailant entered victims' apartments in the early morning hours and then sexually assaulted them. All of the victims were college-aged women.

On April 23, police in Fort Collins arrested Graves in connection with the Colorado assaults. It was later reported that his DNA matched both the Fort Collins and Philadelphia crimes.

He will serve the Philadelphia sentences after his life term in Colorado.

Yet despite the closure that has been brought to the Graves' case, Sylvester Schieber said that the Philadelphia Police system still needs to be reformed.

"That part of the case is closed, but city of Philadelphia needs to change the way that it does its policing," he said.

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