It was the morning of February 21, 2005, when a utility worker operating on an abandoned cul-de-sac on the outskirts of Miami spotted a woman who had been viciously attacked and left for dead in the dirt. He immediately informed the Miami-Dade police, and upon arrival, they quickly rushed her to the hospital. She regained consciousness the next day, and even though she was not able to communicate verbally, she wrote down a few pieces of information.
The lady identified herself as Inna Budnytska, but she had no recollection of what happened to her. ABC’s ’20/20: A Woman in the Suitcase’ chronicles the horrifying tale of a brutal attack on Inna Budnytska and how her ordeal shed light on the wrongdoings of a dangerous man who turned out to be a serial killer. Let’s dig deeper into the details of the crime and learn more about her current whereabouts, shall we?
Who is Inna Budnytska?
At the time of the incident, Inna Budnytska was 21-years-old and working in one of the many cruise lines that operated around Miami. The Ukrainian native had cut her finger deeply on the job, and the aforementioned cruise line had accommodated her at the Miami Airport Regency Hotel. The hotel was approximately ten miles away from the place where she was found. Miami-Dade police Detective Allen Foote took charge of the case and he started scanning the footage from the numerous cameras installed in the hotel for security purposes. As Inna recovered, she detailed that she had gone to meet a friend and returned to the hotel shortly after midnight.
The camera footage showed her stepping out again at 3:33 am and returning just seven minutes later at 3:40 am, and taking the elevator to go to her room. This was the last time Inna was seen in the hotel. Inna explained that she had gone out to buy a phone card to call her mother, who was living in Ukraine. As the investigation advanced, it came to light that Inna was also raped that night. From the information that they could gather through the footage, the police had a few suspects. However, they were not able to match the DNA found on Inna’s body to any person they had under their radar.
As there were no more threads to tug at and with Inna’s memories about the incident being fogged, the case went cold for a few months. Meanwhile, Inna decided to sue the hotel for their negligence in security. The hotel wanted to protect itself and they hired a private investigator, Ken Brennan, a former New York policeman and DEA agent. Brennan was able to gain the trust of Foote and after successfully convincing him to divulge some information, he started working on the case from scratch. He believed that the cue to solving the case was in the camera footage and he started combing through it again. It was not long before he found what he was looking for.
On the show, Brennan said, “On the video, she goes out of the hotel early in the morning. When she comes back about a half-hour later, there’s a big, large, black man standing with her, and she just has a quick conversation with him. They get onto the elevator together” He noticed that the man entered the elevator with her at 3:41 am and left the hotel, without checking out, at 5:28 am with a large suitcase in his hand. The man came back to the hotel without the suitcase about an hour later. Brennan’s suspicions were further solidified when he noticed that the man was carrying the suitcase in a manner that indicated it was very heavy.
“I’ve done this, and you’ve done this countless times coming out of an elevator: did you ever get it stuck so bad that you had to yank on it like that?” Brennan added. “A light bulb went off and I said, ‘This is the guy, and she’s in that suitcase.'” After launching a harrowing hunt for the man in the camera footage, the police were able to identify him as Michael Lee Jones. He was now working in Frederick, Maryland and the records showed that he was in the hotel on the night of the attack. Foote interviewed Jones but he maintained his innocence. He provided his DNA sample consensually, and when the results came back after a few months, it was a match!
Where Is Inna Budnytska Now?
Michael Lee Jones was charged with sexual battery and kidnapping. Without Jones’ confession and having only circumstantial evidence at their disposal, the prosecutors offered him a plea deal in 2006. The man pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of sexual battery with a weapon and aggravated battery in exchange for having the more serious charges dropped. He was sentenced to just two years in prison. On the show, Inna Budnytska expressed her disappointment over his sentence. She said, “I was angry, I couldn’t do anything. I’m not familiar with the justice system. But I was upset inside.”
On the other hand, Brennan successfully lobbied the Miami-Dade Police Department to enter Jones’ DNA into CODIS, the FBI’s national database. Within a year, his DNA was linked to three other cases of violent sexual assault. In July 2008, Jones was extradited to Colorado Springs to stand trial for the attack on Jennifer Roessler. As Roessler passed away before she could take the stand to testify against Jones, Inna Budnytska was called in as a witness at his trial in 2009. She aided the case against him, and the jury eventually found him guilty. Michael Lee Jones was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
Reflecting upon her decision to give the testimony, Inna said, “I did it for the other women. That’s how I feel… Even so it hurt me afterward and make me feel sick and go with my memories back but I did it for the other people”. She added that she felt happy about the criminal being where he is supposed to be and he would never be able hurt anyone else in the future. She also won the lawsuit against the hotel and received a $300,000 settlement. It seems like Inna Budnytska did not let the incident define her, and she came out a more empathetic and empowered individual. As far as her whereabouts are concerned, we believe she is leading a life away from the limelight and understandably so.
Read More: Michael Jones: Where is the Rapist Now?