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More than 20 years after a 19-year-old woman was kidnapped and raped by a man in Escondido, an arrest has been made in the heinous case that was once cold, police announced Thursday.
Mark Thompson Hunter, now 64 years old and a resident of Hemet, California, was arraigned Thursday on charges of kidnapping, forcible rape, sodomy and several other sexual assault charges. Hunter pleaded not guilty today in Vista Court to six felony counts. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
“Justice for the victim is long overdue, but it shows you what law enforcement can do when they work collaboratively,” Deputy District Attorney Claudia Plascencia told NBC 7 on Thursday.
Hunter moaned and groaned throughout his brief hearing, at one point saying, “I don’t feel good.” His public defender asked that he receive medical help as soon as possible.
The attack took place on Feb. 17, 1999, after the woman was approached by a man near Grand Avenue and Rose Street who was asking for directions, Escondido police said.
"She agreed to drive her car and let him follow in his vehicle and she would lead him to the location," police said.
After driving for about a mile, the man motioned for her to pull over. As the woman approached his van, she was pulled inside, Escondido police said.
The man then drove her to another location, where he sexually assaulted her. He then drove her back to her car, let her go and took off.
The suspect was never located. That is, until the Escondido Police Department collaborated with the FBI to retest DNA found at the crime scene.
"DNA obtained from the original crime was resubmitted and led to the suspect’s identification, Mark Thompson Hunter," police said.
The FBI helped police identify Hunter as a suspect by comparing his DNA to samples found on public genealogy websites like Ancestry.com, although investigators didn’t say specifically which sites were researched.
San Diego's Unsolved Cold Cases
On Tuesday, San Diego's Fugitive Task Force, the Escondido Police Department and the FBI served a search warrant at Hunter's Hemet home and he was arrested in connection with the kidnapping and rape, police said.
"It’s been a long time coming," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner. "However, the successful resolution to this crime of horrible sexual violence demonstrates our commitment to pursuing justice no matter how long it takes."
Hunter was transported to San Diego County where he was booked into the Vista Detention Facility.
In court Thursday, the judge ordered Hunter to be held without bail at least until a bail review hearing on July 21. The judge also ordered Hunter to stay 100 yards away from his victim and not to contact her in any way. Hunter was also forbidden by the court to possess firearms or ammunition. He told the judge he didn't have any weapons or ammunition.
The case is still being investigated, officials said.
"The Escondido Police Department is looking into the possibility that this defendant could be a perpetrator in other similar crimes," Plascencia said, adding, "we ask anybody that has any information related to this case or any other case where they think this defendant might be a suspect to contact the Escondido Police Department.
Anyone with further information in connection with the crime can call (760) 839-4722.
A preliminary hearing is set for Aug. 5.