For more than 40 years, the woman lived with her husband in a one-bedroom apartment in a building on 15th Street NW while the neighborhood deteriorated.
After her husband's death in 1976, the woman, now 83-year-old, resisted gentle persuasion from relatives who wanted her to live with them in Philadlephia. The woman agreed that the city and its people had changed, but she had been untouched by trouble. So, independent, without children but with what few friends she had left, she stayed on 15th Street.
She was asleep, late in the evening on Sept. 18, 1977, when she heard a knock on her door and recognized the voice of her neighbor, Larry Pittman, 24. It was then that the violence she had so long avoided intruded upon her life.
Thirty eight hours later, a police officer found the woman buried beneath a mattress and a mound of bedclothes and furniture. She had been stabbed 17 times in the face and throat and her arms and chest were slashed. The officer thought the woman was dead, but when he reached down and squeezed her ankle, it moved. She had survived what she now remembers as a shocking dream.
In the D.C. Superior Court four days ago, the small, frail woman, dressed in a tailored navy blue suit and a matching brimmed hat, took the witness stand, turned to Larry Pittman and in what was described as a strong, clear voice, identified Larry Pittman as the man who had assaulted her.
Yesterday, a jury convicted Pittman of assaut with intent to kill, armed robbery and first degree burglary while armed, but acquitted him of a charge that he had raped the woman. Pittman will be sentenced by Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I on Nov. 7.
Five years ago, Pittman, who worked as a printer, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in connection with the stabbing death of a prostitute and was placed on three years' probation, according to court records. In 1974, he was convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon and receiving stolen property and was paroled after serving 20 months in prison. Both times, because of his age, he was sentenced under the federal Youth Corrections Act.
Pittman was someone the woman trusted, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bernard J. Panetta II told the jury in his closing argument Thursday. She knew him and they had exchanged conversation on the front porch of the apartment building where they lived.
So, Panetta told the jury, when the woman heard what she believed was Pittman's voice at her door, she let him in.
"Of course it was my own fault. I opened the door and I had no business doing it," the woman said in a telephone interview. But since Pittman was a neighbor, the woman said, "my first thought was maybe he was in some trouble."
The woman remembers that a second man, never identified, came into the apartment but that it was Pittman who confronted her, Panetta said.
At first, Pittman demanded money, but the woman refused, according to the government Pittman then went to the woman's kitchen, took a butcher knife and forced her to hand over $20, Panetta said.
Then, Panetta said Pittman told her, "I'm going to kill you cause you'll send me back to jail."
There was a struggle, the woman was overpowered and passed out, Panetta said.
A day and a half later, a neighbor grew concerned that she had not seen the woman. She telephoned the woman's grandniece, who called the D.C. police.
In the emergency room at the Washington Hospital Center the woman told her story to the police. Panetta told the jury at the close of Pittman's trial.
"The good Lord just didn't intend for me to go at that time," the woman, a school-teacher in the District for 42 years, said in a recent interview. She spent two months in the hospital and then was taken - in an ambulance - to live with her relatives in Phiadelphia.
They were reluctant to have the elderly woman return to Washington to testify at Pittman's trial, the woman said "Your're too old to be bothered with that," she said she was told. And at times, she said, she too doubted whether she could withstand the strain.
"I was willing. I didn't want to. But I was willing to do anything that would help get him out from the public so he couldn't do anything to anybody else," the woman said.
And when her testimony was complete, the woman said, "I felt that I did all right."