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'This case is surreal': Man pleads guilty to 1978 rape, kidnapping attack in Park Hills

Detectives began looking into decades-old cold case in 2017
Posted at 7:04 PM, Dec 01, 2020

PARK HILLS, Ky. — A man has pleaded guilty in a rape and kidnapping attack on a Park Hills woman, resolving a cold case dating back to Oct. 1, 1978.

Michael Dean Tate, 78, pleaded guilty to rape, sodomy and kidnapping charges Monday after he was arrested at his Union County, Georgia, home in November 2019, according to Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders.

"This case is surreal,” Sanders said in a release Tuesday. “It's like a real-life version of 'Law & Order' or 'CSI.'”

Boone County Sheriff's Department "Cold Case" Detectives Coy Cox and Timothy Adams began looking into the attack in 2017, after they noticed similarities to another unsolved Boone County homicide case.

During the initial 1978 investigation, Park Hills police recovered a fingerprint from the victim's car door, which was closed by her assailant during the attack.

"Fingerprinting was relatively new back in those days," said Sanders in the release. "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."

When Cox and Adams resubmitted the print 40 years later, they got a match to Tate. After combing through public databases, they found Tate was in the Cincinnati area in the mid-1970s when he was working as a traveling salesman.

Detectives also had to track down the victim, who survived the attack and had since moved thousands of miles away from Kentucky. When Cox and Adams flew to her home for an interview, she told them she didn't know Tate, and there was no reason his fingerprints would be on her car if he wasn't her attacker. The detectives also found that her car was kept in a garage and had not been serviced around the time of the attack.

On Nov. 13, 2019, Cox and Adams interviewed Tate at his home in Georgia. He told detectives he had raped a woman 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 car and drove her to another location to rape her.

Tate also admitted to more sexual assaults in at least two other states. The detectives have been in contact with other police agencies looking to match Tate's confession to other unsolved rapes, but no charges have been filed yet.

Sanders, who prosecuted the case alongside First Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Casey Burns, recommends Tate receive a 12-year sentence. If granted, Tate would be almost 90 years old by the time he is released.

"We consulted the victim every step of the way. 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," Sanders said. "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 also lauded the efforts of the Boone County Sheriff's Department and both detectives.

"They relentlessly pursued this rapist until he was brought to justice. I'm still amazed with their work," he said.

Tate is due to appear before Kenton Circuit Judge Patricia Summe for sentencing on Jan. 12, 2021, at 3:30 p.m.