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Sheriff: DNA evidence links man to 2002 rape of Santa Rosa teen

A former Santa Rosa man wanted for 17 years as a suspect in the rape of a local teenager was found in a jail cell in Central California, where he had been arrested on suspicion of public drunkenness, and is now facing charges for the 2002 sexual assault.

Juan Martinez Lopes, 39, was held Monday in the Sonoma County Jail on suspicion of the March 17, 2002, kidnap and sexual assault of a 16-year-old Santa Rosa girl. “He was on the run for 17 years,” Sonoma County Sheriff’s Sgt. Juan Valencia said Monday.

That night, about 1:30 a.m., the teen had been walking along Sebastopol Road near Hampton Way when a man approached and called to her.

Frightened, she ran away but was grabbed, dragged into a field and raped, then raped a second time after trying to escape, Valencia said.

Eventually the girl got away and hid in an unlocked vehicle until the man was gone. She then found a phone and sought help, Valencia said.

The investigation led detectives to Lopes as the suspect. The teen picked Lopes out of a photo lineup and detectives obtained a $500,000 warrant for his arrest.

But investigators could not find Lopes and detectives suspected he’d fled to Mexico.

Last month Lopes was arrested in Madera County on suspicion of public drunkenness. His name triggered the 2002 arrest warrant history and Madera County alerted Sonoma County detectives.

They got a search warrant for his DNA, went to the Fresno-area jail and got a sample. The results matched evidence kept since the original investigation, Valencia said.

Lopes was arrested on Sept. 13, suspected of kidnapping, two counts of rape, forced penetration with a foreign object and an enhancement that can add prison time if convicted, according to Sonoma County Jail records.

He was transferred to Sonoma County, where he remained in custody Monday with bail set at $500,000.

It wasn’t clear Monday why the Sheriff’s Office waited five weeks to report the arrest.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707-521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com.

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