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Exclusive: DNA leads to arrest in 1996 rape of hearing-impaired woman in Montgomery County

Jose Ofer-Solorio Abarca (Montgomery County Police Department)

For the last 22 years, a deaf woman has longed for closure in a rape that forever changed her life during what was meant to be an enjoyable trip to the nation's capital.

In October 1996, the woman boarded a plane in Florida. She flew to Washington, D.C. for a three-day fair at Gallaudet University. The woman, then 40, stayed with a friend at a home along Notley Road in Colesville.

After two long days at the fair, the woman fell asleep on a sofa in her friend's back sunroom. It was around 10:30 p.m. when she dozed off. Then around 2 a.m., the woman awoke to a man shaking her body.

To her astonishment, the man was pointing a silver handgun at her head, putting his hand over her mouth and motioning for her to stay silent and still. The suspect, described as a "Spanish" man in his 20s with black hair, ripped off the sofa covers and raped the woman for "a few minutes." The victim did not put up a struggle out of fear for her life.

When the man vanished into the autumn night, the victim got the attention of her friend. Together they called 911.

UPDATE: Man accused of raping deaf Montgomery County woman in 1996 was in U.S. illegally

Police quickly ascertained that the suspect had pried the exterior molding off a sunroom window and crawled inside. Forensic technicians took a number of photographs and processed the scene for fingerprints. Police also collected DNA on the victim's body, clothing and sofa sheet. The DNA profile was entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which the FBI maintains. However, there was no match in the database.

Speaking through a sign language interpreter, the victim explained her friend had noticed a white construction van in the neighborhood the day before. She shared that a Hispanic man associated with the van kept "looking at the women who were in the sunroom." Detectives, however, were unable to identify that suspect. The case gradually grew cold amid an ever-growing stack of newer crimes.

In January 2008, Montgomery County Police arrested a man by the name of Jose Ofer-Solorio Abarca for drug possession (not marijuana) with the intent to distribute. Court records show the then 32-year-old pleaded guilty to the crime and was later sentenced to one year in prison, plus 18 months of supervised probation.

Due to that drug conviction, Abarca's DNA was entered into CODIS.

In March 2009, the Montgomery County Police Crime Laboratory learned that Abarca's DNA "exactly matched" the evidence collected in the 1996 rape, a then 13-year-old cold case.

Within days, Montgomery County Police filed an arrest warrant for Abarca, but for reasons still unknown, authorities did not capture the wanted man until April of this year — eight years after the warrant was first issued.

Speaking by telephone Wednesday evening, defense attorney Victor Del Pino explained his now 42-year-old client was ultimately arrested during a traffic stop.

“This took his family and him by surprise," Del Pino stated.

Del Pino said his client maintains his innocence. They have entered a plea of not guilty.

“We’re in the inception of the case and we’re going to work our way through the discovery," Del Pino added, noting that 22-year-old evidence brings a certain complexity to any criminal matter.

According to court documents, Abarca was born in Mexico. He is married with four children and was working as a handyman up until his April arrest. His last known address is a mobile home park along Frederick Road in Germantown.

"Wonderful! I am happy. I am happy to hear that, yes," said 81-year-old Gilda Linton who lives across the street from the house where the rape occurred.

For the last 22 years, Linton has wondered — who could have done such a thing? The victim's friend no longer lives at the address.

“I feel sorry for the girl. Having a gun pulled at you, I don’t know, what can you do? Ya know, what can you do?"

Abarca remains in the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Clarksburg on a no-bond status. He faces up to one life term, plus 40 years in prison on charges of first-degree rape, first-degree burglary and the use of a handgun during a violent felony. His trial is currently slated for October in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

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