LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles judge was expected Monday to exonerate a man convicted of three rapes after DNA evidence linked the crimes to a serial rapist wanted for assaults dating back two decades.
Luis Vargas has been in prison for 16 years for crimes he didn't commit, according to the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law, which took up his case in 2012.
Spokesman Chris Saunders said Judge William Ryan was expected to throw out Vargas' convictions during an afternoon hearing.
DNA tests found that the crimes Vargas was convicted of were actually committed by the so-called Teardrop Rapist, who is known for a tattoo of a teardrop under his eye, Saunders said. Witnesses linked Vargas to the crime because he had a similar tattoo.
The Teardrop Rapist is linked by DNA to 11 crimes and suspected of 35 in total across the Los Angeles area, the Innocence Project said. He is on the FBI's most wanted list.
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 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. He was often armed with a gun or a knife.
Every one of the attacks has come in the morning between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m.
Police in 2012 released several sketches of the suspect they described as a light-skinned Hispanic man between 40 and 55 years old.
His most striking characteristic is the tattoo some victims have reported seeing on his face, though even that was shrouded in uncertainty, with some remembering it on one side of his face and some the other, and some reporting one teardrop, others two.
Officials said there was even some evidence the man may have had the tattoo removed.