How Durham is making new arrests in old rape cases

·4 min read

A woman was unloading her car around midnight in the parking lot of a northern Durham apartment complex on Nov. 10, 2007.

Suddenly a man forced her into the passenger seat, drove the car a short distance and sexually assaulted her, police said. He then drove back toward the complex on Willow Creek Circle, got out and ran.

Twenty-four years later, the Durham Police Department has arrested Isadore Sullivan Jr., 38, of Durham and charged him with second-degree rape, first-degree kidnapping and second-degree sexual offense last week.

The now, almost-quarter-century-old sexual assault kit was submitted for forensic testing in 2019. The DNA collected from the kit was entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), through which law enforcement agencies can see samples from several different agencies.

Investigators were able to match the DNA from the case with two others out of Florida. A woman was sexually assaulted in February 2007 in Key West and another was sexually assaulted in Fort Lauderdale in May that year.

Police were also able to use evidence from a 2018 case in Durham in which Sullivan was charged with attempted rape and kidnapping to confirm he was also a suspect in the 2007 case.

The case is one of more than 1,700 sexual assault kits that were part of Durham’s rape-kit backlog reported in 2018, the biggest backlog in the state.

A police spokesperson told The News & Observer in 2018 the department does not send kits for testing if incidents are domestic and the suspect is known or when a suspect is identified after the evidence kit is collected. The police department holds the kits in case they are needed in the future, however, with the oldest kit in Durham dating back to 1988.

The case is part of the N.C. Department of Justice Sexual Assault Kit Initiative. When the initiative started, law enforcement agencies tallied up the number of sexual assault kits they had.

Durham has been testing many of the cold case sexual assault kits. In 2019, it was the county sending in the highest number of kits in the state.

As of the end of February 2021, 270 of the kits of the backlog of more than 1,700 kits had been tested, with 73 hits in the DNA database. Thirteen people have been charged in 17 cases.

Lt. Stephen Vaughan said during a news conference Tuesday that the Durham police could only send that many tests because of limited capacity at Bode Technology, the laboratory police have been outsourcing testing to in Virginia.

The N&O called Bode Technology to learn more about the process and how more kits could be tested but did not receive a response as of Wednesday afternoon.

The police department has received two federal grants totaling just over $1.5 million to help investigate cold case sexual assaults.

New rape kits are not added to the backlog, Vaughan said. They go to the police department’s Special Victims Unit, and are tested immediately for DNA left behind by a suspect, he said.

“These cases may be old, but our view is they are definitely not forgotten,” said Vaughan.

Arrest made in 2015 assault

Police also made an arrest in a 2015 sexual assault cold case. Early on May 31, a man wearing a mask, armed with a knife broke into the woman’s home and sexually assaulted her, police said.

The DNA matched that of Carlos Dominguez-Aguiar, 27, who was charged with first-degree rape and first-degree burglary.

Dominguez-Aguiar was already in the custody of U.S. Marshals in Texas for illegal reentry into the country. He is set to be released in August. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has placed a hold on him, which would give the agency 48 hours to arrest him after his release. He will be indicted for the rape and burglary after he is released, according to Durham police.

Vaughan said finding answers for the victims in cases like these is what motivates him in his work.

“For that to occur to someone and have to live through that for the rest of your life without answers, that’s what drives me every day,” he said.

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