Publication Date: Wednesday Jul 22, 1998
POLICE: Reid pleads guilty to five rapesPeninsula rapist to receive two life sentences
by Don Kazak
Accused Peninsula serial rapist Romel Demetrius Reid of East Palo Alto pleaded guilty Friday to 19 felonies, including five rapes, and will receive two life sentences plus 56 years in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 14. Reid is responsible for a string of sexual assaults that terrorized Peninsula women in late 1995, both because he boldly committed many of the attacks in daylight near public areas and because they occurred with such rapidity, sometimes only days apart. In one terrifying four-day stretch in September 1995, he is believed to have committed four of the rapes and two attempted rapes.
Reid pleaded guilty to seven robberies, five rapes, four assaults with intent to commit rape and one charge each of assault with a deadly weapon, attempted robbery and evading a police officer.
One rape and one assault charge were "enhanced" by kidnapping charges, which enabled the prosecution to ask for life sentences.
In addition to the five rapes Reid committed in Santa Clara County, he is believed to have committed two rapes in Menlo Park for which he will not be prosecuted. Even with the pending sentence of two life terms plus 56 years in prison, Reid, who is 28, will still be eligible for his first parole hearing in 2045, when he is 75. But parole is considered highly unlikely because of the gravity of his crimes.
Reid was captured by deft police work Jan. 15, 1996. On Jan. 13, a 15-year-old Mountain View girl was approached by a man while walking home and screamed at her attacker. The man left, but police were alerted to the 2 a.m. attempted attack and had a general description of the van the man was driving.
Palo Alto police then posted patrol cars on major streets leading from Mountain View to Palo Alto. Five hours later, on El Camino Real near San Antonio Road, Palo Alto officer Tom Pohl saw the van, which sped away when a traffic stop was attempted.
The van was driven at high speed to East Palo Alto, where the man jumped out and fled. Despite an all-day cordon around the neighborhood and the use of bloodhounds, the man was not apprehended.
But police recovered important evidence from the van, including a sweatshirt belonging to one of the rape victims, and Reid was captured without incident two days later in Sunnyvale.
By pleading guilty to the 19 felonies, Reid avoided other charges that could have netted him three life sentences plus 106 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
There was an important consideration in accepting Reid's guilty pleas: His victims will not have to go through the trauma of facing him in court.
"I personally spoke to each victim and each police agency, and they all agreed" with the guilty pleas and sentence of two life terms plus 56 years in prison, said J. Hector Moreno, the Santa Clara County deputy district attorney prosecuting the case. "They are very satisfied with the outcome. They are still pretty much traumatized by the events. And there was no reason to go through a trial."
Noting that it is unlikely Reid will ever win parole, Moreno said, "It essentially comes down to how long he lives."
Reid is believed to have committed rapes in Menlo Park on Aug. 21 and Sept. 5, 1995, but he will not be prosecuted for those crimes because they were taken into consideration when Reid's sentence was determined, said Stephen Wagstaffe, San Mateo County chief deputy district attorney.
"We're satisfied with that sentence," Wagstaffe said. "I just cannot imagine a parole board ever releasing this guy into the community."
Wagstaffe also said it was important that the Menlo Park victims, one of whom was a 15-year-old girl at the time, avoid the trauma of facing him in court.
Both Moreno and Palo Alto police officer Luis Verbera, the lead investigator in the case, said a trial would have had only one outcome.
"The evidence (against Reid) was overwhelming," Verbera said. The guilty pleas by Reid were accepted by prosecutors in the interest of protecting the women, he added. "It is more for the victims than anything else, so they don't have to appear in court. Now they can start living more peacefully."
Verbera said Reid, before his rape and robbery spree, had only one conviction for a nonsexual charge, so it is a mystery to police why he would suddenly launch a series of terrifying sexual assaults.
"There was something in his life which triggered it," Verbera said, "but I don't know what that was. I wish I did."
When Reid appeared Friday before Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge John T. Ball, Verbera said, Reid appeared calm and resigned to his fate, pleading guilty in a low voice.