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Sacramento DA to rapists: You will leave a trace, and we will find you

Tony Bizjak, Darrell Smith, and Michael Finch II

July 6, 2019

The Sacramento Bee

For decades they were phantom-like predators who repeatedly struck terror in entire communities and then vanished, seemingly forever.

Until now. For the third time in little more than a year, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert stood at a lectern last week announcing a dramatic arrest of a notorious suspected serial rapist from decades past. Displayed behind her and her law enforcement partners each time were poster-sized police mugshots of flesh and blood suspects for all to see.

This time, the photo showed a blank-faced Mark Jeffery Manteuffel, who police describe as a sadistic serial rapist in the capital region in the early 1990s. Last fall, the mugshots were of Roy Charles Waller, looking surly in one, smug in the other, believed to be the NorCal Rapist who struck in the night dozens of times in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Months earlier, the public finally saw the mottled and graying visage of Joseph James DeAngelo, down-turned mouth slightly ajar, who is believed to be the most notorious Sacramento sexual predator of all, the East Area Rapist, later known in Southern California as the Golden State Killer.

Thanks to a sophisticated, science-based style of police investigation called genetic genealogy, law enforcement officials here and elsewhere say they’re turning the tables. It is the rapists who must look over their shoulder.

Armed with DNA from the crime scene, investigators peruse publicly available genealogy databases, finding near matches, and tracing those family trees until they find the rapists, kidnappers and murders. Schubert, a pioneer of the method, last week called it “the latest and perhaps the greatest advancement to help law enforcement to find the truth” in violent crimes.

But the tool is complicated, time-consuming and controversial. It requires expertise and meticulous work constructing family trees. It only works if police have kept old DNA samples, and, even then, it often leads to dead ends.

Already, complaints and some attempts to limit police access to DNA databases have surfaced, suggesting the practice is liable to come under increasing scrutiny and possibly more controls.

For now, Schubert and other investigators have momentum. Schubert last week recounted the unusual groundwork, 20 years in advance, that led to Manteuffel’s arrest.

It started with Peter Willover, a veteran “cold case” detective for the Sacramento Police Department. He was familiar with one of rape cases Manteuffel is charged with committing. It was in East Sacramento in March, 1994. A masked man with a knife broke into a woman’s home and waited for her to return. When she did, he bound, beat and raped her.

“The extent of his brutality toward her, it was vicious,” Willover said.

In late 1999, the California six-year statute of limitations in effect then was coming near its end with no suspect identified. The rape kit with its DNA evidence could be thrown away once the deadline passed. Willover called Schubert, who was then a sexual assault prosecutor in the district attorney’s office. “I asked her if there was anything we could do,” he said.

Schubert had just read a story in The Bee about a Wisconsin prosecutor who’d persuaded a judge to write a placeholder arrest warrant for an unknown assailant, identifying the attacker in the documents merely by his DNA markers collected at the crime scene. The Bee story, written by a Milwaukee journalist, called the tactic “futuristic.”

Two days before the deadline in March of 2000, the DA’s office filed a placeholder warrant in Sacramento Superior Court against an attacker identified only by his genetic code. It was the first time the “John Doe” DNA arrest warrant in California, local officials say.

It listed a dozen-plus DNA identifiers, and read more like a science project than a criminal complaint.

“On or about March 23, 1994 ... John Doe, unknown male with Short Tandem Repeat Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) profile at the following Genetic Locations, using the COfiler and Profiler Plus Polymerase Chain Reaction amplification kits .... did unlawfully and with intent to cause cruel and extreme pain and suffering ... inflict great bodily injury ...”

That March 21, 2000 complaint was the legal basis for Manteuffel’s arrest last week at his Decatur, Ga., home. Manteuffel, a retired federal corrections officer who had briefly been a part-time Sacramento State criminal justice lecturer, faces the East Sacramento rape charge, and a charge of causing great bodily injury with a knife to a Rosemont woman in 1992. The Rosemont charge did not include rape, though, because the statute of limitations for rape had passed for that crime by the time the March 2000 complaint was filed.

Manteuffel, 59, could face charges as well from a January, 1994 rape in Davis, Yolo officials said. The charges there may be, however, kidnapping and robbery, rather than rape, based on the state statute of limitations law in effect at the time.

Manteuffel was arraigned on Friday in Sacramento Superior Court on seven charges related to the East Sacramento and Rosemont sexual assaults. A second court date is set for later this month.

Schubert said last week she and other prosecutors will continue to use the DNA tool aggressively. At her Monday news conference she quoted forensics pioneer Paul Kirk: “Wherever he steps, whatever he touches, whatever he leaves, even unconsciously, will serve as a silent witness against him. Not only his fingerprints or his footprints, but his hair, the fibers from his clothes, the glass he breaks, the tool mark he leaves, the paint he scratches, the blood or semen he deposits or collects.”

Unlike human memory that grows fuzzy over the years, “this is evidence that does not forget,” she said.

Sacramento now has a genealogical investigative team, and local investigators train police and prosecutors around the country on techniques. Schubert declined last week to say whether or how many other DNA-focused sexual crime cases are under investigation.

The recent arrests are providing emotional closure for victims who may have wondered and worried for years. Police say they have contacted the women that Manteuffel is alleged to have raped a quarter-century ago, and say they are emotional and grateful.

Nicole Earnest-Payte, who was 21 and believed to be the NorCal Rapist’s first victim in a 1991 attack in Rohnert Park, recently told The Sacramento Bee that she locked eyes with Waller, 59, during his initial court hearing as he stood in orange jumpsuit inside the courtroom’s steel cage.

“I glared right back,” she said. “That was the first time I felt angry. It was the first time that I finally thought, ‘Yeah, there you are, and you look fairly pathetic.’ I was a little afraid, but not afraid of him. Right at this moment, I feel great.”

Waller, 59, of Benicia, whose alleged crimes started in the early 1990s and continued to 2006 after the rape statute of limitations was extended, faces a preliminary hearing in August on dozens of felony counts tied to attacks on nine women in six counties: Sacramento, Butte, Contra Costa, Solano, Sonoma and Yolo.

DeAngelo, 73, a former police officer whose DNA has been connected to numerous rapes in the Sacramento area, as well as murders in Southern California, is being held in Sacramento without bail, facing 13 murder counts and other counts related to sexual assaults. DeAngelo was arrested at his Citrus Heights home in April of 2018 after Schubert’s crime lab used DNA from crime scenes to compare to DNA at a genealogical website. That arrest is credited with publicizing genetic genealogy nationally as a powerful crime tool.

The investigative technique received another boost last month. Prosecutors in Washington state won the first conviction nationally based on evidence gathered by tracking the suspect through DNA his relatives shared on a public genealogy website. The crime, a murder, had happened 30 years ago.

But the technique has limitations. Many smaller agencies and counties do not have the expertise, equipment and time to undertake a labor-intensive investigative path that can involve months of work, and can easily lead to dead ends.

“It’s not a simple process. It’s somewhat of a niche,” Schubert said. Her office uses genealogical investigations only for violent crimes.

Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig has benefited twice from Sacramento’s expertise. Both Manteuffel and Waller have been linked via DNA to crimes in Yolo.

”We don’t have the resources,” Reisig said. “We don’t have a crime lab, so we’re fortunate to be neighbors (with Sacramento). They logged me into the investigation when things got hot.”

Butte County DA Mike Ramsey echoed that. His investigators turned to Schubert’s office for help on a 1980s murder cold case. “Like most rural counties, we use (the state Department of Justice) crime lab (but) it’s not as advanced in the area of genealogical DNA,” he said. “That’s where Anne Marie’s folks are more cutting edge and they’ve been most helpful.”

Leah Larkin, a genealogist in Livermore, said law enforcement officials are turning to the private genealogical databases because they are both more sophisticated and less protective of privacy than the government’s genetic database, which is known as the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, and is managed by the FBI.

Millions of people have submitted DNA samples in recent years to those databases to learn more about their ancestry and extended family, making those databases a treasure trove for investigators.

That has prompted privacy concerns in the genealogy world, leading to recent reassessments of how much data should be publicly accessible. (Notably, though, a recent Baylor College of Medicine survey found that 79 percent of the public support police use of genetic websites, especially for violent crimes and crimes against children.)

“I think there are huge concerns about government over reach and privacy,” Larkin said. “In a lot of states they either can’t do familial searches at all in the CODIS database or it has to go through an ethics panel first.”

GEDmatch, the company whose data helped crack the Golden State Killer case, has changed its terms of service twice recently in response to privacy concerns. The size of its DNA database shrunk dramatically after the company asked more than 1 million users to decide if their personal data could be used by law enforcement.

Another public online database, FamilyTreeDNA, has published rules saying law enforcement can only use the company’s data to “identify a perpetrator of homicide, sexual assault or abduction.” The company notes that it makes “every effort to give the minimum degree of cooperation legally required when complying with legal requests for any additional user information.”

Defense attorneys as well have expressed concerns about DNA usage, especially since the state recently relaxed statute of limitations laws on violent crimes to allow law enforcement freer use of DNA for past crimes.

Jennifer Friedman, the forensic science coordinator for the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office, noted that investigators can easily collect crime scene DNA from an innocent person. If the crime took place 20 years ago, a person who had an airtight alibi at the time may no longer be able to establish that alibi given the loss of documentation or the haziness of memories.

“That is a recipe for a wrongful conviction,” Friedman said. “There is going to be a case where this points to someone who did not commit the crime.”

Another defense attorney who has concerns said he nevertheless appreciates Schubert’s efforts. Sacramento attorney Johnny Griffin III played a key role in the evolution of DNA law. In 2001, defending an accused rapist, Griffin challenged Schubert’s use of a placeholder John Doe DNA arrest warrant, arguing that DNA codes are not a reasonable identifier of a suspect.

Then Sacramento Superior Court Judge Tani Cantil-Sakauye, now the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, ruled in Schubert’s favor, leading to the conviction of a man known as the Second Story Rapist.

Cantil-Sakauye was quoted in news reports at the time: “This is uncharted water. It’s a novel theory.”

But, she added, “As of this date, DNA is unalterable and appears to be the best identifier.”

Griffin said he has concerns about the viability of old DNA. But he said DNA genealogy investigations also are sometimes used to prove that a previously convicted person is innocent.

“I’m proud of her,” Griffin said of Schubert. “She had a vision and she went with it.”

Read the full story here.

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