Crime

Home invasion rape reported 6 weeks ago in Merced. What’s holding up the investigation?

What happens in a rape kit exam?

A sexual assault evidence kit contains forensic evidence gathered from a victim's body during an intrusive, hours-long examination. Testing kits can find DNA evidence used to identify rapists, boost prosecutions or exonerate the falsely accused.
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A sexual assault evidence kit contains forensic evidence gathered from a victim's body during an intrusive, hours-long examination. Testing kits can find DNA evidence used to identify rapists, boost prosecutions or exonerate the falsely accused.

A 26-year-old Merced woman is frustrated that police haven’t made an arrest after alleging she was raped six weeks ago by a man who invaded her home, despite detectives interviewing the man they consider a prime suspect.

In a move unusual for sexual assault cases, the woman has made it a very public case by sharing photos of the alleged perpetrator on social media. The Sun-Star is not naming the woman or her alleged attacker; the Sun-Star doesn’t identify possible victims of sexual assault, and isn’t identifying the man because he hasn’t been charged with a crime.

“When (victims) are recording or are making statements on social media, they themselves just want to be heard and validated,” said Chee Yang, director of the Valley Crisis Center. “Something traumatizing happened to them. ... It’s just a way of saying ‘this happened to me and I want to make sure this doesn’t happen (again).’”

Merced police Capt. Bimley West said investigators are waiting on the results of a medical examination that was sent to the California Department of Justice. West said detectives believe the outcome of the rape kit analysis evidence is critical to make an arrest.

“Our detectives are seasoned professional investigators,” West said. “They pretty much know when they have enough” to arrest a suspect. “We’re not in the business of taking away someone’s liberty without the proof to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The test results from the Department of Justice could take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, West said.

The sexual assault evidence kit is required to be completed within 120 days of receiving the kit, according to an email response from the Department of Justice. But DNA reports are typically released earlier.

“The California Department of Justice is committed to accurately and expeditiously processing sexual assault evidence kits sent to us for DNA analysis,” according to the email statement.

West described the case as a high priority for the department but said it was important for the legal process to proceed correctly.

In a recent interview with the Sun-Star, the woman said, “I’m just so scared and upset, disappointed. I feel like they should have locked him up so he can’t do this again.”

Attacked at home

The woman said she was attacked in her own home after she took Zoloft, a prescribed medication that she said made her drowsy. She was expecting her boyfriend to come over, she said, so she left the front door unlocked.

She said she was groggy when a man — she assumed was her boyfriend — came into her darkened bedroom and laid down next to her in bed. She said she had sex with the man.

She said that with the effect of the medication wearing off, she turned on the bedroom light and realized the man wasn’t her boyfriend.

She said she called 911 and tried to take photographs of the intruder with her cellphone but he managed to block his face and ran from the house before police arrived.

She later posted messages and at least some of the photos she took from the night of the attack on social media, eventually learning the name and description of a man who she believes is her attacker.

“I feel scared, and I’m trying to cope with it,” the woman said, adding she has found some comfort through her church.

Investigation

West said most sexual assaults and rapes are perpetrated by someone who is known to the victim, so it’s more concerning when an attacker enters a stranger’s home.

But the same social media posts that helped the woman possibly identify her assailant also made it more difficult for police to gather evidence needed to justify an arrest, investigators have said. Key photos or information shared publicly sometimes can tip off a suspect, or make it harder for detectives to verify the suspect or witnesses’ stories.

“We do care,” West said. “It’s a matter of having to look into any evidence or reports and needing a level of corroboration to support it. ... I think the public wants us to be the professionals we are and make sure the case is investigated.”

West encouraged the public to immediately report any information or incidents on any type of sexual assault or rape to police.

He also urged residents to lock doors and windows at night or even during the day to avoid easy access to their homes.

Anyone with information about the case or any other rape or sexual assault is asked to contact Sgt. Rey Alvarez at 209-388-7705, or the police department’s tipster line at 209-385-6998. Callers can remain anonymous.

The public also can send information via anonymous text message to the police department by dialing TIP411 (847411) and including the word Comvip as the keyword in the text message.

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Vikaas Shanker is an award-winning reporter covering education, crime and courts for the Merced Sun-Star and Los Banos Enterprise. After growing up in Naperville, Illinois and graduating from the University of Kansas, he reported in several Chicago suburbs before moving to Merced County in 2016.
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