East Coast Rapist indicted in Pr. George’s, the place where his crimes began

Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post - Aaron Thomas arrives in police custody at an airport in Manassas on Nov. 29, 2011. Escorting Thomas is Detective Steve Piaskowski, with Prince William County Police.

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The East Coast Rapist — linked by DNA to more than a dozen attacks from the Washington area to Connecticut — has been charged in the place where he said his crimes began.

Prosecutors in Prince George’s County on Tuesday indicted 41-year-old Aaron Thomas on first-degree rape and related counts in six cases from 1997 to 2001. Although Thomas has been sentenced to five life terms for similar crimes in Virginia — virtually assuring that he will die in prison, given that the state has no parole — prosecutors in Prince George’s said they thought it was important that none of his cases be overlooked.

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“We want to bring justice and closure for his victims here in Prince George’s,” said John Erzen, a spokesman for Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks. “We think that is something very important to do.”

Police and prosecutors have long portrayed Thomas as a cunning criminal, one who avoided detection for more than a decade as police from several states investigated his crimes. DNA evidence had long indicated to authorities that one man was responsible for a series of attacks dating to the mid-1990s, but Thomas was not captured until March 2011, after police launched a massive manhunt in the wake of an attack on Halloween in 2009.

Although he has been convicted and sentenced in some cases, the breadth of Thomas’s misdeeds will probably never be fully known. He has told The Washington Post that his first rape was in the early 1990s in Prince George’s County, and he described several attacks that predate those known to authorities. Police have said that rape cases often go unreported or uncharged.

The earliest attack that Thomas is facing charges for in Prince George’s occurred in February 1997, when a woman was accosted by a man riding a 10-speed bicycle along Marlboro Pike — the same location where Thomas said he started his string of crimes years earlier. In the latest attack, in August 2001, two women were raped in the same incident.

Thomas is also charged in an August 1997 rape of a woman behind a Popeyes restaurant in Suitland and a July 1998 rape of a 16-year-old behind the Oak Hill Townes townhouse community in Temple Hills, according to information provided by prosecutors and police.

In at least five of the six Prince George’s cases, investigators have said they have DNA evidence linking Thomas to the rapes. Prosecutors did not charge Thomas in two other Prince George’s cases from 1997 thought to be connected to the East Coast Rapist — cases that lack DNA evidence but match his tactics — nor did they charge Thomas with what he has claimed was his first rape along Marlboro Pike, in the early 1990s.

The sixth case — a rape that authorities said occurred April 1, 1999, and in which Thomas is also charged with robbery and theft — was previously not publicly reported as being linked to Thomas or the East Coast Rapist, and authorities did not provide details Tuesday. Law enforcement officials said Prince George’s authorities had been culling through unsolved rapes in an attempt to determine whether they might be connected to him.

Erzen said prosecutors are “confident with the evidence that we have in these six cases.”

As it is, any additional charges have little punitive meaning.

Thomas was sentenced this month to two life terms for a May 2001 attack in Loudoun County, and he was already serving more than three life sentences for a Halloween 2009 attack on three teenagers trick-or-treating in Prince William County. Investigators have said they have DNA evidence linking Thomas to more than a dozen attacks in Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Virginia, and he has admitted — to law enforcement officials and in interviews with The Post — that he was the East Coast Rapist.

Symbolically, though, Prince George’s holds the unwanted distinction as the place where Thomas says his attacks began.

Thomas, the son of a D.C. police officer and a career Geico employee, was raised in Suitland and attended an alternative school and later Friendly High School, both in Prince George’s County. In interviews, he has said he first gave in to his urges when he was living as a homeless man in the county, unable to find work, squatting in a burnt-out pet store along Marlboro Pike, near the sites of several of the attacks. Other attacks linked to Thomas in the county occurred near where he or his relatives lived. After his arrest, detectives asked Thomas how many rapes he had committed in Prince George’s. He replied, “A lot.”

Erzen said that by charging Thomas, prosecutors hope to send a message to would-be criminals: “You can’t come into Prince George’s and commit a crime and get away with it.”

Fairfax County officials also are pursuing charges against Thomas in the three rapes and one thwarted attack from 1999 to 2001 that they have linked to him on the basis of DNA evidence, according to law enforcement officials.

Those attacks began shortly after Thomas moved to the Alexandria section of Fairfax County with his then-girlfriend. Thomas has told The Post that he committed a number of attacks near where he lived along Route 1 but said he didn’t remember specifics.

Josh White contributed to this report.

 
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