Crime Lab Backlog Delays DNA Match in Serial Rapes

Authorities released photos on Wednesday of the person who may have been committing the crimes since 2003

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The Riverside Police Department, on Wednesday, released surveillance video of a suspected serial rapist accused of targeting women at massage parlors in three counties across Southern California. Patrick Healy reports from Riverside for NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Sept. 25, 2013. (Published Wednesday, Sep 25, 2013)

    DNA matches enabled investigators of a sexual assault at a Riverside massage parlor to discover the pattern of a serial rapist, but getting those lab results took more than two years, according to Riverside Police.

    After submitting a sample to California's Department of Justice in late 2009, Riverside detectives were notified in 2012 of matches to four other assaults in massage businesses in two neighboring counties, said Detective Aurelio Melendrez of the Riverside Police Department.

    Riverside investigators already had security camera video of the perpetrator from their case. They acquired additional video from the victimized massage businesses in Corona and from San Bernardino County, and at one point identified a suspect.

    But his DNA did not match that recovered at the five crimes. As leads dried, Riverside Police decided to seek the public's help and Wednesday released excerpts from surveillance video at three of the locations.

    The video depicts a black man whom detectives estimate to be about 40 years old, 6 feet tall and 250 pounds. In one video excerpt, he is seen walking with a masseuse back to a massage room.

    Another excerpt shows him unclothed and peering out a window. At another point he can seen carrying a gun as he exits a massage business.

    A 55-year-old victim was severely beaten, suffering a broken shoulder and losing five teeth after she was slammed against a wall and dragged by her hair down a hallway, Melendrez said at a briefing requesting the public's help.

    "We do have good images of his face," Melendrez said. "I have no doubt someone will identify him."

    The known assaults dated back to 2003 and mysteriously ended in 2009, though police suspect there may have been more recent assaults that went unreported.

    The perpetrator has targeted businesses staffed in many cases by recent Asian immigrants who speak little English and may be reluctant to contact law enforcement.

    "We are under no illusion that every single crime has been reported," said Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz.

    In 2006, Los Angeles County Sheriff's detectives investigating an assault of a massage therapist in the city of Industry became aware of a similar assault near Fontana in an unincorporated area of San Bernardino County, according to Industry Station Sgt. Dan Jackson.

    Comparing DNA samples from the two cases, the San Bernardino Sheriff's lab found a match. However, the DNA did not match any named samples in the state's database, and investigators were unable to identify a suspect.

    Three years later, after the case in the city of Riverside, police were not aware of those cases outside Riverside County. Riverside's DNA went to the state Bureau of Forensic Science to be compared to the millions of samples in the California Department of Justice database.

    At the time, there was a backlog of months, if not years, in some cases. In January 2012, newly elected Attorney General Kamala Harris announced the backlog had been eliminated, and that routine cases would be handled in 30 days.

    Riverside was notified of the matches in April 2012, as Melendrez said.

    Beyond Industry and Fontana, there were matches to additional assaults in Gardena and in the Chino area. But there is still no match to any identified sample in the state database.

    Because DNA samples of all arrested felony suspects are taken as part of the booking procedure, this means the serial perpetrator has not been arrested for a felony in California for at least a decade.

    It appeared to Melendrez that the perpetrator has been able to "compartmentalize" his assaults and otherwise lead a life that does not draw suspicion.

    It's also possible the perpetrator has left California, Melendrez said. Riverside Police had taken some social media criticism after announcing Tuesday that video and still images would be released a day later.

    Some felt the department should have immediately released whatever it had. At the news briefing, the department noted the absence of recent cases, and said there was no imminent public safety threat that demanded an immediate release.

    Some images of the perpetrator had in fact been released previously in connection with individual cases, Melendrez said.

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