Man accused of five rapes after DNA matching

Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- After matching three DNA samples, police have accused a former Anchorage resident of raping five women since 1996.

Authorities are now looking at several other cases to see if John Hunter was involved.

The five alleged victims are from Anchorage.

Hunter, 39, had been identified by three of the women as their rapist between 1996 and January of this year. Each time, he told police the women were prostitutes and that the sex was consensual, according to charging papers.

But after the third of those cases, involving a woman who said he took her to the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, authorities collected a DNA sample. It matched not only fluids found on the victim, but also DNA samples from two other unsolved Anchorage cases, in 1997 and 1998.

With the new evidence, Anchorage police traced Hunter to Houston, Texas, where he was arrested on Wednesday. He waived extradition and was returned to Anchorage, where he was arraigned Sunday on five counts of first-degree sexual assault. Bail was set at $250,000 cash. He was being held on that bail at Cook Inlet Pre-Trial Facility Monday.

The DNA match gave prosecutors a very powerful tool to present to a jury, said Assistant District Attorney Adrienne Bachman.

''In the two cases where DNA identified the perpetrator, those were not cases in which Mr. Hunter was contacted (by police),'' Bachman said. And his story, repeated too many times, was losing credibility, she said.

''The coincidence of allegations like this happening over and over in what ought to be consensual circumstances make them much more suspicious,'' she said.

The rapes occurred when women agreed to get in the car with Hunter, usually late at night, according to the charging documents. He would then drive the woman to an isolated area, rape her and then return her to the vicinity of the place where he originally picked them up, said Detective Steve Hill of the Anchorage Police Department. Four of the five victims, who ranged in age from their 20s to their 40s, were Alaska Natives.

Anchorage police have been criticized by those who say crimes against Natives are not taken seriously. Bachman said the fact that the victims were Native doesn't explain why Hunter wasn't charged earlier.

''I'm confident that had nothing to do with the charging decisions of the police,'' she said. All five victims were located by police recently and agreed to pursue their cases, she said.

Hunter had served eight years in prison for an Indiana rape in 1983, according to prosecutors. In Alaska, he racked up three convictions for driving while intoxicated, and he was also convicted last year of criminal mischief.

The Alaska DNA database is becoming more and more useful in linking suspects to old cases, said Chris Beheim, administrator for the Alaska system, which is linked to a national database.

Workers at the Alaska State Crime Laboratory in Anchorage are working through ''quite a backlog of unsolved cases,'' he said. With new techniques, the lab can magnify old DNA samples from tiny blood stains and other sources, allowing precise identification, he said.

Alaskans convicted of felony crimes against people have been required to provide a DNA sample since 1996, and convicted burglars were added last September.

The state DNA database now has about 3,000 entries, while the national register now contains nearly three quarters of a million DNA profiles, Beheim said.

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