Granddaughter of murder victim wants suspect prosecuted

Jeff Van Houten, Debbra Baker, and Francis Van Houten

/ photo by Jim Kenyon

A granddaughter of a 1977 murder victim in Ithaca says she wants Tompkins County authorities to prosecute her grandmother's killer.

Debbra Baker contacted CNY Central after Monday's news conference in which the Ithaca Police Department and the Tompkins County District Attorney's Office say they have solved the murder of Ruth Van Houten.

The 75-year-old woman was smothered to death in her home during a burglary. Authorities say DNA evidence connected the crime to 64-year-old David Grimes - who is currently serving 50 years to life for a series a violent burglaries in which he attacked the elderly.

At the time, D.A. Gwen Wilkinson told reporters the family agreed not to prosecute Grimes of the murder because he wouldn't be eligible for parole until the age of 93.

Baker, however, claims authorities only talked to two family members. She says she speaks for five other grandchildren who say "They haven't solved the case at all. All they have is DNA evidence, no trial, no conviction, nothing."

Baker says in an e-mail to CNY Central: "I want him prosecuted for what he did to her and to all of us. You have no idea what it is like living with this your entire life and the pain he caused."


On Thursday, Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson returned our call for comment. Wilkinson told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon, she "stands by the decision" not to prosecute. While she "understands the feelings" of the grandchildren, Wilkinson said they discussed the case with the two closest surviving relatives of Ruth Van Houten. "It won't make one iota of difference to the time he serves or to public safety" she said, if Grimes were to be prosecuted. Wilkinson also pointed out that because there is no statute of limitations on the crime of murder, proseuctors could always press charges in the future if it appears Grimes will get out of prison.