Thomas also is serving more than three life sentences for a Halloween 2009 attack on three teenage trick-or-treaters in Prince William County, the last in a string of at least 13 attacks linked to him by DNA in Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Virginia dating to the 1990s. Because Virginia has no parole — and because Thomas now has five life sentences to serve — it is almost certain that he will never be released from custody.
At the hearing Friday, Thomas came face-to-face with one of his victims. Tracie Saunders took the stand to describe the horror of being raped and threatened with death, and the lasting effects of an attack that happened nearly 12 years ago.
“It took me a long time to get over it, about a year,” Saunders testified, as Thomas stared down at the defense table, his head bowed. “He hurt my body, but I would not allow him to hurt my head. I became stronger than him.”
Saunders, who asked that her identity be made public as she hopes to become a victim advocate, said she lived in fear for several years and had a hard time trusting men, afraid that everyone knew she had been raped. She said Thomas changed her life in that empty apartment, when he made her fear she would never again see her children.
“I’m very glad to know he won’t be able to hurt anyone ever again,” Saunders said.
Thomas told Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne that he needs help and treatment “to figure out why and how I ended up like this. I want to be punished and I know I need to be punished.”
Horne said sternly that Thomas’s crimes deserved the ultimate punishment he could give, one life term for rape and one life term for abduction.
“What you did to her is the same as if you had taken a knife and drove it right through her heart,” Horne said, referring to Saunders. “Instead, you drove it right through her soul.”
Thomas’s defense attorney said three members of Thomas’s family — his mother, brother and sister — defied subpoenas to appear in court Friday. Thomas’s mother, who lives in Virginia, has attended previous court hearings.
The guilty pleas in the Loudoun attack were Thomas’s first in a string of cases that date from the early 1990s in Prince George’s County to 2009 in Prince William, where he pleaded guilty to rape and abduction and was sentenced to three life terms.
Thomas has admitted — to police, in court and in interviews with The Washington Post — that he was the so-called East Coast Rapist.
In interviews, Thomas, the son of a D.C. police officer, has explained the attacks as emerging from his time as a desperate homeless man in Prince George’s County in the early 1990s, when he gave in to animalistic urges. He told The Post that he was never on the run, that he committed the attacks when he felt lonely or lost, and that he, at times, was able to control his urges.