Police: Niskayuna man confesses to 1994 murder of Virginia woman

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A Niskayuna man walked into the police station last week to confess to killing a woman in Virginia in 1994, as investigators were closing in on the case.

Stephan L. Smerk, 51, came to the Niskayuna Police Department at about 5:19 p.m. last Thursday, according to a news release. He said he wanted to admit to stabbing 37-year-old Robin Lawrence to death on Nov. 20, 1994 in her residence on Reseca Lane in Springfield, while her 2-year-old daughter was inside.  

Fairfax County investigators held a news conference on Monday, streamed on Facebook, to discuss the investigation.

Lt. Colonel Eli Cory, deputy chief of police for investigations, said detectives in 1994 collected DNA evidence from the scene. At the time, there were not any matches in the federal database.

A break in the case came in 2019, when police began working with Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA company based in Northern Virginia.

“They developed a profile using that DNA and began searching genealogical databases,” Cory said.

The company provided a family tree and also created a digital composite sketch of the suspect. Police used that sketch to compare a high school yearbook photo of Smerk and one from 1998.  

Last week, Fairfax County detectives traveled to Smerk’s home on South Country Club Lane in Niskayuna to interview him.

“He happened to be taking his trash out. They took that opportunity to engage him in a conversation,” Cory said.

Smerk willingly consented to DNA swabs.

Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said that he found that “highly unusual.”

Davis said they left their business cards and returned to their hotel room in preparation to head back to Virigina. Then, the phone rang.

“It was Stephan Smerk on the other end of the phone. ‘I want to talk. I want to talk right now,’” Davis said Smerk told the detectives.

The investigators told him to call 911 and make his way to the local police station. The detectives made their way to the station to interview him.

Davis said that Smerk made a full confession admitting his guilt.

“It was a confession with more than enough details, coupled with the genetic genealogy resources,” he said.

At the time, Smerk was in the U.S. Army on active duty and stationed at Fort Meyer. There is no connection between him and Lawrence.

“The typical motives that we normally associate with murder – disputes, domestic violence. None of that was at play here. He chose her seemingly randomly,” Davis said.

Smerk is being held as a fugitive and will be charged with murder in Fairfax County.

Police have no reason to believe that Smerk is linked to any similar crimes, but Davis said he anticipates they will receive information and tips after this publicity.

The chief attributed the resolution of this case to the “doggedness” of the detectives.

Cory is also grateful the case is solved.

“After almost 30 years of work, Smerk is behind bars and is going to be held accountable for his actions,” he said.

Family members were present at the news conference. A friend of the family said they are looking forward to the legal process playing out.

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