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Police: Man Accused Of East Coast Rapes Confessed

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rapist billboard, Aaron Thomas

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MANASSAS, Va. (AP) — The man accused by prosecutors as the East Coast Rapist confessed to police after his arrest that he raped two teenage trick-or-treaters in Virginia in 2009, but only after complaining that a police sketch that was plastered across the Mid-Atlantic failed to accurately portray him, according to court testimony Thursday.

A judge heard testimony Thursday at a preliminary hearing for Aaron H. Thomas, 40, who police believe is responsible for rapes and other attacks on 17 women from Virginia to Connecticut over the span of a decade.

The judge found probable cause to send the case to a grand jury after hearing graphic testimony from three women who were abducted on Halloween 2009. Two of the three were raped in a wooded area before their attacker fled upon hearing police sirens.

The judge also found Thomas competent to stand trial after receiving a mental health report from a court-appointed psychologist who concluded that Thomas was feigning insanity to avoid prosecution.

The report was not publicly available, but Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert said the examiner concluded that Thomas was malingering. Thomas scored so low on the IQ test, according to Ebert, that he would not have been able to function in society at all if it were truly his score.

Defense attorney Ronald Fahy had requested a competency exam after saying Thomas engaged in self-destructive behavior and refused to communicate. In one incident on the day he was arraigned in Manassas in November, Thomas smeared feces across his face.

At Thursday’s hearing, Fahy made no argument that Thomas was incompetent. For much of the hearing Thomas, shackled at his wrists and ankles, stared at the ceiling, gazed straight ahead or rested his forehead on a table.

The three girls who were abducted — ages 16 and 17 at the time of the incident — all testified that they decided to go trick-or-treating at the last minute after seeing how much candy younger siblings and cousins had collected. They testified that a man wearing a ski mask demanded money and pointed what they thought was a gun at their backs and ordered them into some nearby woods.

Two of the girls said they were raped. A third girl, who hid a cell phone in her sleeve, surreptitiously sent text messages to her mother and others alerting them to call police.

“I can text without looking,” she said. “I texted my mom, my friend’s mom, anyone. I said a man was raping (my friend) in the woods behind the CVS, call 911.”

The girls said their attacker fled when he heard police sirens. None of the three explicitly identified Thomas, who authorities say is linked to the crime by DNA evidence.

William Burke, a sergeant with Prince William County Police, testified about witnessing Thomas’ interrogation after his arrest in New Haven last March. Thomas was arrested after a multi-state publicity campaign in which a sketch of the suspect in the East Coast rapes was posted on billboards throughout the region, and a website dedicated to the crimes was established by a police task force.

Before Thomas admitted to the Halloween rapes, Burke said the suspect first complained that the billboards he had seen did not depict him accurately. Thomas said he used a toy gun to threaten the girls, according to Burke.

After the hearing, Ebert declined to say whether Thomas confessed to all the sexual assaults of which he is accused. He is also suspected or charged in assaults in Connecticut, Maryland and Rhode Island. Connecticut agreed to extradite Thomas to Virginia to face trial first, in part because of the strength of Virginia’s case against him.

If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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