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Publication Date: Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Police watch case crumble Police watch case crumble (August 14, 2002)

Rape suspect cleared by prosecutors

by Faiza Hasan and Daryl Savage

For the second time in eight months, the Palo Alto Police Department is facing the release of a key suspect in a high-profile sex-crime because of DNA test results.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney's office announced Friday it dropped all charges against 18-year-old Jorge Hernandez for the rape of a 94-year-old Palo Alto woman in her apartment at the Palo Alto Commons. Prosecutors received DNA evidence late Friday morning that cleared Hernandez of the crime. The District Attorney's office filed a motion for dismissal later that day at a court hearing.

Though Deputy District Attorney Brian Welch refused to get into the specifics of the case, he did say that there were several reasons why the District Attorney's office initially filed the charges against Hernandez. These reasons were outlined in the motion for dismissal filed by Welch, and included the defendant's statements to police and witnesses; the victim's description of the perpetrator; witness statements to the police; and items found at the scene that were linked to the defendant.

"The point is that we didn't make our decision on one piece of evidence but an accumulation of evidence," said Welch. "The ongoing investigation never stopped."

The motion for dismissal went on to say that, "the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Crime Laboratory has done extensive testing on evidence collected at the crime scene. Due to the laboratory's most recent findings, we do not believe that Mr. Hernandez personally sexually assaulted Jane Doe and accordingly are dismissing sexual assault charges against Mr. Hernandez today."

Welch also refused to comment on the exact nature of the DNA evidence, but said it was enough to prove that Hernandez was not the rapist.

Police arrested Hernandez in July after investigators linked him to evidence found at the crime scene, including a Guatemalan ring with the name "Edwin" engraved on it. Hernandez's brother Edwin, police said, lives near the senior assisted-living facility, and his younger brother often stays with him. The rape occurred May 10 when the suspect apparently entered the woman's bedroom through an unlocked glass door. Police said the woman valiantly fought her attacker, who left behind the ring and other evidence.

Palo Alto police had little to say this week about the decision.

Agent Jim Coffman, a department spokesman who was involved in interrogating the suspect, would only say the case is "ongoing" and would not comment on other suspects or leads the department is looking at. He directed further questions to Police Chief Pat Dwyer.

Dwyer would not say that Hernandez has been cleared.

"He (Hernandez) has not yet been exonerated. Our investigation is continuing," he said.

This is the second high-profile sex-crime case this year where Palo Alto police have watched their suspect go free. In January, Palo Alto police arrested David Carlson, a 35-year-old preschool teacher and charged him with molesting a 4-year-old child. After he spent three weeks in jail, all charges were formally dropped after he was cleared of DNA evidence.

Since his arrest, Hernandez's family, classmates and coaches rallied to show their support, claiming he was not capable of such a crime. Hernandez was released from jail Saturday morning.

In an interview with the San Jose Mercury News, Hernandez stated he was devastated by the arrest and often read the Bible while in jail. The teenager added he wants an apology from the police, who he said took advantage of his unfamiliarity with criminal law.

The Hernandez case has captured media attention up and down the state. The Los Angeles Times ran a story Sunday, other stories appeared in the Ventura County Star, the Contra Costa Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.

E-mail Faiza Hasan at fhasan@paweekly.com. E-mail Daryl Savage at dsavage@paweekly.com


 

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