Seventh Victim Linked to Miami Rapist
By Susannah A. Nesmith, The Miami Herald
DNA evidence has linked the attack on a 77-year-old woman -- victim No. 7 -- to the serial rapist who has been prowling southwest Miami neighborhoods over the past nine months, Miami police said Tuesday.
Police Chief John F. Timoney also announced DNA tests confirmed previous suspicions that the suspect raped a 12-year-old girl on June 9.
Six of the seven cases have now been connected to the same man through DNA. Police did not recover any in the rape of a 79-year-old woman, but they blame it on him because of strong similarities to the other cases.
The first known attack, on a 21-year-old woman, was on Sept. 17, 2002. Since then, he has targeted three school girls -- 11, 12 and 13 -- and three other women, including a 55-year-old.
"I have never in my career seen a serial rapist where the age ranges from 79 to 11," Timoney said at a news conference.
He noted many only attack a certain kind of victim, such as prostitutes or children.
Timoney said the newest case linked to the serial rapist occurred on March 13 in the same general area as the other six. But police did not connect that case to the suspect because they again failed to send in a DNA sample for county crime lab analysis until a few weeks ago -- "when it became clear we had a problem on our hands," Timoney said.
Police have acknowledged they did not submit DNA evidence from the September 2002 rape until June 5. Some Miami detectives have said they often held on to DNA samples whenever they hadn't identified a suspect, believing the Miami-Dade police crime lab would not process them.
Miami-Dade police, which process most crime samples around the county, have denied rejecting samples in stranger-rape cases when there was no known suspect.
Timoney said from now on, Miami detectives will submit all stranger-rape cases for lab analysis. He said all police departments should 'remove any discretion [regarding] `should they be submitted or should they not be.' Clearly, they should."
Investigators are now looking at other rapes as well as burglaries in Shenandoah, Silver Bluff, Little Havana and surrounding neighborhoods because the seven known attacks occurred within a two-mile radius in that area.
Timoney said investigators recently submitted a DNA sample from a November burglary in which the man broke into a woman's home and exposed himself, but did not commit a rape.
They are also looking at three rape cases from 2000 and a June burglary in which the intruder was scared off.
Police suspect the rapist may be a burglar because he was adept at breaking into some of the homes. In other cases, he has convinced the victims to let him inside, using excuses such as wanting a glass of water or needing to use a telephone.
All seven were home alone at the time. That includes the most recent attack, when he was waiting inside for his young victim to come home from school.
The 12-year-old Ponce de Leon Middle School student told WSVN-Channel 7 that memories of the violent attack haunt her.
"When I have flashbacks, I only remember how hard he choked me," said the girl, whose face was partially obscured to protect her identity.
"What was going through my mind was if I was going to live, if I was ever going to see my friends or family again. And I was really scared."
At the press conference, Timoney pleaded again for the public to keep calling in tips on potential suspects.
Police have gotten more than 120 men to voluntarily give samples of their DNA for comparison against the evidence. The samples are being processed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
FDLE Miami Director Amos Rojas said his agency will submit all the samples it receives to the statewide database. FDLE won't process any samples that aren't accompanied by signed consent forms showing the men understood they didn't have to give a sample. "The forms are explicit that the samples are entered into a DNA database and could lead to prosecution," he said.
Tuesday night, Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, urged members of Miami's civilian police-watchdog group to question Timoney about those DNA samples ending up in the state database. Simon suggested the department use a private contractor instead of FDLE, so samples could be destroyed after analysis.
Police say they are only asking for samples from men they suspect could be the rapist -- either because someone called in a tip or because of a resemblance to the sketch.
Timoney asked the public to focus on two sketches -- made from descriptions by two of the girls he raped -- because all of the victims have said those closely resemble their attacker.
"The problem with sketches, they're really used as a guideline," Timoney said, noting that he has worked past cases in which the captured suspect did not resemble the sketch police were circulating.
"The value of sketches is often limited," he said.