MANASSAS (AP/ABC7) - As three of the girls he allegedly victimized looked on Thursday, the man accused by prosecutors of being the East Coast Rapist was declared competent to stand trial today after a court-ordered mental health evaluation.
Authorities believe 40-year-old Aaron Thomas is responsible for rapes and other attacks on 17 women from Virginia to Connecticut over the span of a decade.
He faces up to life in prison if convicted of the most recent attack - the Halloween 2009 abduction of three teenage trick-or-treaters in Woodbridge. Two were raped before Thomas was forced to flee.
Clad in an orange prison jumpsuit and sporting grown-out hair and a full beard, Thomas sat while a Prince William County Juvenile Domestic Relations judge read eight charges against him, including the two counts of rape.
On that Halloween night, Thomas allegedly attacked the teens, one of whom was 16 and the two other 17 at the time, while they were out trick-or-treating.
Prosecutors say that he demanded money from them, then forced them at gunpoint into a ravine. One of the victims told the court that as she and her friends were ordered face down on the ground, she quickly sent her mother a desperate text message.
It read, "Man raping my friend in the woods behind CVS call 911."
"It was not easy for them," Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert said after the hearing. "They certainly didn't want to be here and they obviously didn't want to be victims in the first place."
A police detective later testified that Thomas told him what he had done to the girls, saying that he had "an urge" to rape them. He also apparently didn't like the composite sketch of him that law enforcement put on billboards while they searched for him.
"If his biggest concern is he doesn't match the police sketch when there's so much other evidence against, he's a little delusional," retired police detective Todd Troutner, who helped investigate the nearly 15-year-long case, said.
At the end of his hearing, his case was bound over to the grand jury.
The hearing scheduled for Thursday morning was initially docketed for last month but was postponed after Thomas' court-appointed attorney, Ronald Fahy, sought a mental evaluation.
He said Thomas has engaged in self-destructive behavior and refuses to communicate with him.