DNA clears US man of rape after 16 years

24 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Convict in 3 sex crimes freed by DNA tied to fugitive rapist.

LOS ANGELES — Even after Luis Vargas was sent to prison for a rape conviction that would mean he would probably never be free, his young daughter never stopped believing in him. A Los Angeles County judge Monday threw out the conviction of a man who has spent 16 years behind bars for three sexual assaults his attorneys say were committed by a serial rapist still on the loose. The California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law took Vargas’ case in 2012 and found that DNA showed the crimes were actually committed by the so-called Teardrop Rapist, who is known for a tattoo of a teardrop under his eye. Her father, wearing a blue jail uniform and handcuffed only minutes earlier, broke down, put his hand to his forehead and covered his eyes as Superior Court Judge William Ryan ruled that new evidence “unerringly” pointed to Vargas’ innocence and tossed out the convictions. “I’ve believed in my father’s innocence the day he told me he was innocent,” Nunez-Vargas said after the brief hearing, becoming emotional and dabbing her eyes as she spoke with reporters. Ryan to release Vargas, saying the office “no longer has confidence in the convictions.” At a hearing Monday afternoon, Vargas appeared in a downtown courtroom handcuffed and dressed in blue jail scrubs.

His lawyers expect he’ll be released by immigration authorities because he was a legal resident at the time of arrest and the matter of the conviction is now vacated. Hopefully, this new evidence will help police catch the true perpetrator.” Prosecutors joined attorneys for Vargas in asking that Ryan reverse the guilty verdicts, saying that less sophisticated DNA testing available in 1999 would not have been able to exonerate him.

On the day of his sentencing in 1999, Vargas told the court, “I’m concerned (the) individual (who) really did these crimes might really be raping someone out there, might really be killing someone out there.” In assaults going back to 1996 on victims ranging between 14 and 41 years old, the suspect in most of the cases tried to engage in conversation with a woman walking to work or school, then pulled a weapon, forced her into a secluded area and sexually assaulted her, officials have said. In the three attacks blamed on Vargas, two Latina women and a girl were attacked at bus stops in Los Angeles between Feb. 3 and June 6, 1998, assaults that authorities concluded were carried out by the same man with at least one teardrop tattoo below his eye. Vargas has a similar tattoo and he was accused of crimes that fit the same pattern — attacks on girls and women walking to school her work in the early morning. His most striking characteristic is the tattoo some victims have reported seeing on his face, though there are conflicting reports about which eye it is under or whether there is more than one tear.

Vargas’ case again highlights the importance of DNA evidence in the criminal justice system as well as the questionable reliability of eyewitness identification. The still unidentified Teardrop Rapist, linked to some three dozen sexual assaults across Southern California from 1996 to 2012, remains on the FBI’s most-wanted list. An attorney for Vargas said it was not clear how long his client, who holds a green card conferring him permanent resident status, would be detained over immigration issues. Holding her 7-year-old daughter’s hand, Nunez-Vargas recounted the important events he’d missed: birthdays, father-daughter dances at Latina coming-of-age parties, graduations and his grandchild’s birth. “I’m waiting for him to come home so I can do my big church wedding and be able to have him walk me down the aisle, which is every little girl’s dream,” she said. “I can’t wait for that.” In December 2012, he filed a request to examine DNA collected from the jean shorts and underwear of one of the victims he was convicted of attacking, according to court documents.

While Vargas’ DNA came back as a nonmatch, a lab compared DNA from a victim’s shorts to a DNA profile of the “teardrop rapist.” The man’s DNA, the lab ruled, couldn’t be excluded. And prosecutors also noted a discrepancy in the victims’ descriptions: Two victims said their attacker had two teardrops tattooed beneath his left eye.

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