WASHINGTON – DNA evidence may link a man suspected in rape cases along the East Coast to another sexual assault in Maryland, and police there said they plan to file charges if lab tests confirm a match, authorities said Monday.
Officer Kelly Lawson, a spokeswoman for the Greenbelt Police Department, told The Associated Press that a state police laboratory will conduct more testing to establish a conclusive match with Aaron Thomas. Authorities have said Thomas is linked by DNA testing to rapes and other attacks on 17 other women from Virginia to Connecticut. Lawson said initial testing showed a possible match between Thomas's DNA and evidence from a 1999 rape in the city.
Greenbelt is located in Prince George's County, where several other attacks linked to Thomas have occurred.
Thomas is charged with three rapes in Virginia and has pleaded not guilty to another in Connecticut. A prosecutor has said Thomas likely will face trial in New Haven, Conn., on a first-degree sexual assault charge before he is tried in Virginia.
Lawson said police in Greenbelt would not file new charges against Thomas unless the lab tests proved a definitive DNA match directly connecting him to the 1999 case. Detectives submitted all of their evidence to the lab after getting a hit in a DNA database.
Thomas, an unemployed truck driver, was arrested in March in his hometown of New Haven after authorities said DNA confirmed he was the so-called East Coast Rapist.
Authorities had mounted a large-scale public outreach campaign, putting up electronic billboards in the states where the attacks occurred and in neighboring states. DNA from a cigarette that police saw Thomas discard after leaving a New Haven court was used to confirm that Thomas was the man wanted in the attacks, a prosecutor has said.
Thomas has been suspected of rapes dating to 1997, but he has told investigators that he began committing sexual offenses six years before that, according to law enforcement officials familiar with the case.
The first assault that authorities say they have connected to Thomas occurred in Forestville, Md., with a man pulling a gun on a woman and forcing her into the woods, then fleeing on a 10-speed bicycle. Seven months later, a woman was raped behind a restaurant garbage bin in Maryland; the following year a 16-year-old girl was raped, also in Maryland. Authorities said the same man started attacking women in Virginia until 2001, when two victims were raped in the same attack in Maryland.
Police said the suspect resurfaced in 2006 in New England, peeping on a girl doing her homework in Rhode Island before her screams scared him off. Two teenage trick-or-treaters were raped in 2009 in Woodbridge, Va.
Associated Press writer John Christoffersen contributed to this report.