Aaron Thomas, accused East Coast Rapist, to fight extradition to Virginia

Thomas is accused of more than a dozen rapes. (Police booking photo)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut prosecutors will try to send a man suspected in rape cases along the East Coast to Virginia, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

The 40-year-old Thomas pleaded not guilty in March to a charge of raping a woman in New Haven in 2007. Authorities say DNA confirmed that he is responsible for rapes and other attacks on 17 women from Virginia to Connecticut over the span of a decade. The extradition decision was first reported by the New Haven Register.

Joseph Lopez, the public defender representing Thomas, said a hearing is scheduled in New Haven Superior Court on Nov. 28 to consider his challenge to the extradition attempt.

Lopez said Connecticut has held Thomas for more than eight months and the state's desire to extradite him now would violate his constitutional right to a speedy trial.

He said marshals had two warrants when they arrested Thomas on March 4: a fugitive from justice warrant from Prince William County, Va., and another charging him with sexual assault in New Haven. Authorities could have initiated extradition proceedings on the fugitive from justice charge in March, but instead served him with an extradition warrant earlier this month.

"Who initiated it and why at this particular junction?" he asked.

Prince William County prosecutor Paul Ebert says Thomas is accused of "heinous crimes" in his jurisdiction. He says he asked for Thomas to be extradited as quickly as possible.

New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington said Tuesday that prosecutors will seek to send Thomas to Virginia before putting him on trial in Connecticut. He would not discuss the reasons behind the decision.

The first assault that authorities say they connected to Thomas was in 1997 in Forestville, Md., when a man pulled a gun on a woman and forced her into the woods, then fled on a bicycle. Seven months later, a woman was raped behind a restaurant garbage bin in Maryland. The following year a 16-year-old girl was raped, also in Maryland. Authorities said the same man then started attacking women in Virginia, until two victims were raped in the same attack in Maryland in 2001.

Police said the suspect resurfaced in 2006 in New England, peeping on a girl doing her homework in Rhode Island before her screams scared him off. Two teenage trick-or-treaters were raped in 2009 in Woodbridge, Va.

Authorities had mounted a large-scale public outreach campaign, putting up electronic billboards in the states where the attacks occurred and in neighboring states. DNA from a cigarette that police saw Thomas discard after leaving a New Haven court was used to confirm that Thomas was the man wanted in the attacks, a prosecutor has said.