ICE: Undocumented immigrant accused of raping deaf woman in Md. was previously deported

Jose Ofer-Solorio Abarca (Montgomery County Police Department)

A handyman accused of raping a deaf woman was deported on an unrelated criminal matter only days before being named as the prime suspect in the "stranger-on-stranger" rape case, ABC7 has learned from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Montgomery County court filings.

The felony rape case — still open after 22 years — serves as a prime example of the judicial system's shortcomings when local and federal authorities do not effectively communicate because of differences in policies and politics, among other issues.

Speaking via Facebook Messenger, the deaf rape victim told ABC7 she vividly recalls the horrifying night in October 1996. She awoke to an unknown man shaking her body and pointing a handgun against her head. The victim — who was visiting Washington, D.C. at the time — was sleeping on a couch in her friend's Colesville, Maryland, home. She explained she did not resist the man’s violent sexual advances out of fear for her life.

Investigators 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. The rape case — serious as it was — gradually grew cold amid an ever-growing stack of newer, more pressing crimes.

Then in January 2008, Montgomery County Police served a search warrant at a mobile home along Frederick Avenue in Germantown. Inside officers found $24,000 in U.S. currency, $7,700 in Mexican pesos, 15 grams of cocaine, three cell phones, a tally sheet, cutting device and sandwich baggies. The adult male resident, Jose Abarca, was charged with a number of drug counts.

Facing a sizable amount of evidence, including two "control buys" where undercover officers witnessed Abarca selling cocaine, the undocumented immigrant agreed to plead guilty.

During a July 2008, sentencing hearing, defense attorney Frank Trock said Abarca turned to cocaine as an escape from the harsh reality that manual labor jobs were drying up due to the Great Recession.

“The construction starts tanking because the building and real estate industry starts tanking," Trock said before the court. “My client is not a huge or major player in the cocaine industry. It was mostly selling and violating — actually — the number one rule of drug dealing, getting high on your own supply,"

To no benefit for the defense, Abarca tested positive for cocaine only days prior to his 2008 sentencing hearing. Trock did his best to pivot the blame on dependence.

“He has an addiction. It’s an illness. It’s a horrible illness,” Trock said. "I believe he’s certainly savable, your honor. He’s been here for years. There is no prior record. This is not a man who violates the law constantly.”

Abarca also took the opportunity to speak via a Spanish translator, explaining his desire to support his budding family.

“I would not like to be put in jail because of my children. I love my children very much and I don’t want to leave them," Abarca stated in a meek, high-pitched voice, adding that he suffers from mental illness and only has a sixth-grade education.

The then 32-year-old faced up to 20 years in prison, plus $25,000 in fines. The judge opted to give him a much leaner one year in jail, plus $500 in fines.

“The court did not do this. You made the decision to take the actions to put your family in this jeopardy," Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Ann Harrington told Abarca. “You chose to distribute poison as a way to make money, and that’s not accepted in our community."

Abarca’s immigration status was never mentioned during the sentencing proceedings nor was there any discussion that he might be linked to the cold case rape in Colesville.

On March 9, 2009, ICE deported Abarca to his native Mexico. Only 10 days later, Montgomery County authorities formally charged Abarca with the 1996 rape, citing a DNA match. However, Abarca was long gone.

For nine years, Abarca's arrest warrant on rape, burglary and weapon charges went unserved. That changed, however, on April 3, of this year when Montgomery County authorities inadvertently pulled him over for a broken brake light. While running his information in the computer system, the nearly decade-old warrant appeared. Abarca was immediately handcuffed and booked at the county jail.

During his bond review the following day, prosecutors noted the “stranger-on-stranger" nature of the 22-year-old rape case and the “huge risk” Abarca poses to the community.

On the contrary, defense attorney Victor Del Pino stated his client provides for his wife of nearly 20 years and four children, ages 1 to 17. Del Pino noted that the older children attend Montgomery County Public Schools. According to Del Pino, Abarca believes he has been wrongly accused and plans to fight the case in court.

Citing the fact that DNA is rarely debunked, Montgomery County District Court Judge Patricia Mitchell opted to keep Abarca in jail on a no-bond status.

ICE tells ABC7 it does not know when, how or why Abarca re-entered the U.S. following his 2009 deportation. It’s also unclear how long he has been living in Montgomery County despite a felony arrest warrant on file in his name. On June 13, of this year, ICE filed a new deportation detainer against Abarca with Montgomery County.

Abarca 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.

Timeline of Events:

- October 19, 1996 — Victim raped while sleeping in a sunroom along Notley Road in Colesville, Maryland, suspect DNA collected

- January 4, 2008 — Montgomery County Police arrest Jose Abarca on charges pertaining to cocaine distribution

- July 7, 2008 — Abarca pleads guilty in cocaine distribution case, is sentenced to one-year in jail

- March 9, 2009 — ICE deports Abarca to his native Mexico

- March 19, 2009 — Montgomery County Police make DNA link and formally charge Abarca with 1996 rape case, but are unable to locate him

- Unknown Date — Abarca returns to the United States illegally

- April 3, 2018 — Montgomery County Police arrest Abarca during a routine traffic stop on outstanding warrant

- June 13, 2018 — ICE lodges new deportation detainer against Abarca

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