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DNA Evidence Links Suspected Miami Serial Rapist To At Least One Attack

Aired September 20, 2003 - 14:25   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Straight to Miami now for the police chief on the serial rapist there. Let's listen in.
CHIEF JOHN TIMONEY, MIAMI POLICE DEPT.: ... and in September 2002. His most recent attack was about two weeks ago, where he failed in an attempted sexual assault, where, as you are well aware, the victim in that case, her brother-in-law, came to her assistance and fought this guy off.

Last night, members of the sexual battery unit were in Little Havana, as they have been every day for the last six or seven months, investigating this case, chasing down leads. The team was headed up by Sergeant Goldman (ph), and around 6:10, while they had a location under observation, they observed a dark Mazda, a 1993 Mazda, going in the opposite direction, looking or acting -- driving in a suspicious manner. Driving slowly down the block and kind of checking out the alleyways, when the sergeant's eyes met with this individual.

He immediately averted the eyes, which is often common of people engaged in suspicious activity. The sergeant whipped a U-turn in the car, notified the backup team, and began to follow this individual for a few blocks. He went through at least two stop signs. When he was pulled over at the corner of 13th Avenue and 11th Street, he put on an interesting -- his hazard lights, which was the same thing he did two weeks at the location where his last attempted assault was.

In any event, some questions -- as result of some questions, the individual was taken into police headquarters. He voluntarily submitted to a swab. The investigation was conducted through the night and, actually, it continues as we speak.

We immediately reached out to Miami-Dade lab, and the lab technicians came in at 9:30 last night, did a rush job. There was also a match of this guy's fingerprints to at least one scene, and we're looking for other matches.

Bottom line is there is now a DNA match, a fingerprint match, and an eyewitness identification of this individual. And so right now he is under arrest and there are lots of people to be thanked. FDLE (ph), the state attorney's office; the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Police Department, which has been great to us; and all those folks that lent the resources.

But the credit goes to really the sexually battery unit that have been out there day after day, night after night, working frustrating hours. They had, over the course of the last four or five months, some great leads that we were convinced that we had the individual involved, only to find out through DNA it was the individual. We went as far away as New York. And these guys, god bless them, never gave up and were out there.

So it's as a result of good old fashioned police work that this individual is under arrest. I'll give you his name and his DOB. We're withholding the address because we're in the process of checking it out. He has numerous addresses both inside the city, in Little Havana, and outside the city.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) at one point (UNINTELLIGIBLE) live in the heart of Little Havana. In any event, his name is Reynaldo Elias Rapalo. His DOB is 8-21-71. He's a male Hispanic, 32 years of age. He's Honduran.

He is presently -- his visa has expired, and so he's presently in the country illegally. And that's all we have right now. We will -- I want to bring up Mayor Diaz and some other folks to address this, and then if there are questions you have at the end for the investigators involved, or for Kathy Rundo (ph) and her team, by all means ask them.

But I offer the caveat that this investigation is still ongoing. Even though we have a positive DNA matchup and fingerprint matchup, the investigation continues. And obviously, there's going to be a trial. And so there are certain questions that obviously we can't and won't answer. And so just bear with us -- Mr. Mayor.

COLLINS: All right. We want to bring in U.S. former attorney Kendall Coffey now to comment for us a little bit on the information we just heard from Miami Police Chief John Timoney. You heard it there. Elias Rapalo has been taken into custody, is now under arrest for potentially eight different attacks in the Miami area.

Kendall, talk to us just a little bit now once again about the DNA. Obviously, this is key in this case. And even combined with, as you heard the police chief say, with positive fingerprints and eyewitness identification as well. What does al of this mean for the case?

KENDALL COFFEY, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY: It adds up to a conviction, and the expectation that this perpetrator will never step free from prisons for the rest of his life. It's a huge sigh of relief for the community. An ordeal that the victims will never forget, but certainly a proud day for the Miami Police Department.

COLLINS: In fact, as you mentioned that, recalling some of the comments that the police chief made about this arrest being made due to old-fashioned police work, he said that this man was driving and acting suspiciously. The sergeant who noticed him, particularly noticed how he did not make eye contact with him once they were able to look into each other's eyes. He quickly glanced away.

What do you think about this old-fashioned police work here?

COFFEY: It's old-fashioned police work in the finest tradition, but DNA is the key. And one of the things that everyone's very aware of is when these serial rapes began last September, initially they did not get the DNA tested, and it took a number of months before they were able to realize that there was a serial rapist at work in part because there was some delay in getting the DNA tested fast enough.

One of the important things from a case like this, is it really becomes a road map to just how important DNA is, especially in solving crimes of violence and, more than anything, crimes of sexual assault where DNA is almost always the key evidence.

COLLINS: In fact, Kendall, I was a little bit -- it was interesting, because there were certainly some confrontation about how the DNA was collected. I mean, they were asking people to volunteer their DNA and just taking random DNA samples and swabs.

COFFEY: Well, they have been doing DNA, in effect, road checks in a lot of different jurisdictions in the country. But one of the things that's actually helpful about it is there were apparently several hundred people that met the basic description of the perpetrator. One of the reasons I think that the police had a lot of trouble finding the right guy, he looked like hundreds, perhaps thousands in this town. But because they had the DNA of the actual rapist, they were effectively able very quickly to clear person after person who might have looked like the perpetrator, but who's DNA didn't match that of the rapist.

COLLINS: Now, this person, as we look at the artist's rendition, we should remind everyone of the name, Elias Rapalo, in the country illegally, according to police. And what will that mean for a trial, if anything, Kendall?

COFFEY: It's not going to mean much, because no one's interested in deporting this guy. They want maximum punishment the old-fashioned way, in prison.

COLLINS: All right. U.S. former attorney Kendall Coffey. We appreciate your insights on this latest information.

COFFEY: Thank you.

COLLINS: Appreciate it.


Least One Attack>

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