DNA and Bleach Clue Connects Cases
On the morning of the attack on Lydia Tillman, her father Willy Tillman received a call from the hospital. "When we got there, we could not recognize Lydia. There was no way you would know that it was Lydia. Her head was all swelled up, black and blue, no way to recognize her." The only signs that allowed Lydia's family to identify her were a ring that she wore and a tattoo on her leg.
All the family knew for certain was that the attacker was a stranger.
"She had been attacked and beaten and left for dead and her apartment set on fire, and she managed to jump out the second-floor widow to save herself, and that's what we knew," Willy Tillman said.
After learning that Tillman was doused with bleach, Denver Detective Nash Gurule had a good idea of who the stranger could be.
"I said, you know, 'It sounds like him…he likes bleach. This is his thing," he said.
Sure enough, when police Detective Jaclyn Shaklee tested the DNA under Tillman's finger nails, it came back as a match for Travis Forbes.
Fort Collins police arrested Forbes -- they found him walking home with another woman near the Colorado State University campus on July 10.
He confessed to both the assault of Tillman and murder of Kenia Monge after prosecutors agreed to not to charge him under the death penalty. He explained he had stored Monge's body in that suspicious cooler before burying her in a field.
He later cleaned out his van with bleach, he told police, and burned anything Monge touched.
Lydia was still in a coma when Forbes was arrested. She finally regained consciousness after five weeks and when she did, her anger was palpable: she repeatedly attempted to tear away the tubes feeding her stomach and even dismantling a bolt in her head that monitored her brain pressure.
Only two days after she emerged from her coma, Lydia began writing the statement that she would eventually submit to the court at Forbes' sentencing on Sept. 27.
Standing at her father's side in a packed courtroom of friend and family supporters, Tillman stared defiantly at Travis Forbes, who sat constrained in chains only a few feet away.
In her statement, she wrote:"Travis Forbes, you caused me no harm. My spirit, my soul and my mind remain untouched. May you find peace in this life."
It took her over an hour to compose the three sentences which she wrote by hand on a piece of notebook paper.
Though the brain and throat damage from the attack has severely limited Tillman's ability to speak, she told ABC News in a written statement, "It was my intention to find the strength in my heart to forgive Travis Forbes. I did. I felt extreme anger toward him, then I felt sad for him. He must be in so much extreme pain to so brutally hurt another human."
As she continues her recovery, Tillman, now 31, wears a bracelet encouraging herself and others to "Live Your Days Inspired Anew." She is now able to run several miles a day and participate in a local yoga class. By the end of the year, Lydia hopes to climb the 14,000-foot mountain, Longs Peak.
Monge's family, meanwhile, hopes that their daughter's story will serve as warning to other women.
"I want the brutality to be out there as a learning tool," Lee said. "I want women to know that this could happen to you."