How DNA kits helped catch an alleged serial rapist in Arizona — who happened to be an ex-cop

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Source: Mesa police; Unsplash

Sep. 14 2021, Published 2:36 p.m. ET

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The name “East Valley Rapist” conjures up links to the famous “Golden State Killer” case, in which Joseph DeAngelo, a former cop, turned out to have raped dozens of women in the 1970s and 80s. DeAngelo was caught using DNA evidence and genealogy sleuthing, and in the case of Phoenix’s serial rapist, DNA was the nail in his coffin.

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John Joseph Daly III recently retired after a career with border patrol. As a federal employee, he was able to retire in his mid-50s. He’d then spent more than two decades operating as a serial rapist in Arizona, committed sexual assaults and sexual abuse as well as a burglar and home invasions, police said.

He committed crimes in Mesa, Chandler, and Gilbert—all large cities in the Phoenix Metropolitan area, in the valley, officials claim. The suspect struck early in the morning, breaking into homes after midnight.

Daly is also suspected of committing rapes in Bisbee, a small mountain town three hours southeast of Phoenix.

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The investigation to crack a series of crimes committed over 22 years was led by police and detectives in all four jurisdictions, with FBI and Border patrol assistance, according to AZfamily.com.

DEVASTATING CRIMES, RANDOM VICTIMS

On Oct. 19, 1999, a woman living in Gilbert was asleep at home, when a man broke in through the bathroom window. He blindfolded her with tape and kept her tied her up in her home while he repeatedly raped her. The woman, a 32-year-old whose name has never been released, is considered a victim of kidnapping because her attacker did not allow her to leave.

The rapist stole items before retreating in the early morning hours.

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The next month, a similar crime played out near Harris and Baseline roads in nearby Mesa, AZ. The crime had the same hallmarks, but this time the perpetrator entered the home through an unlocked front door. He attacked the resident, a 21-year-old woman, and tied her up. The charges in the Mesa case include kidnapping.

One year later, a 35-year-old woman was attacked in her home, kidnapped, and raped. The crime occurred in Gilbert, and detectives later learned the rapist had entered through a broken window.

All cases included charges of “sexual abuse” in addition to rape. This serial rapist toyed with his victims, threatening them, and enjoying a feeling of power. He made death threats, saying he would slit their throats.

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Several victims reported losing consciousness, only to come to and find the intruder still there, according to The Herald Review. One, in Bisbee, escaped and found help down the hall to the apartment of, ironically, another border patrol agent who found her nude, with tape across her eyes and hands bound with cord, according to Bisbee police reports.

The only details she could describe her attacker, glimpsed through the tape, was that he wore white sneakers and camo pants.

During the period of assaults, Phoenix had its own serial rapist cops called the “A.M. Rapist” and authorities considered the possibility that the east valley cases were connected.

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So far, DNA linked three of the crimes to each other, but it is believed at least eight were connected based on similarities in how the crimes occurred, location, and choice of victims.

THE BACKLOG OF SEXUAL ASSAULT EVIDENCE

Because DNA has become a powerful tool for solving old and cold cases, rape kits are being re-examined through a new lens. When an individual becomes the victim of sexual assault, bodily fluids are collected during treatment, often yielding offender DNA.

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The method for collected semen or blood from a victim involves using a Rape Kit, and the materials collected are stored. In some cases, without a lead on a perpetrator, these rape kits can be stored for years or decades. But as the database of DNA profiles expands, more rape kits can be brought out of storage for analysis.

The technical term is SAFE: Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence kit, and it takes a minimum of eight hours and up to 16 hours to fully analyze the contents.

After a forensic analyst gets a SAFE kit, they cut out samples of whatever material is inside, including hairs, fibers, semen and blood. The kits may have as few as four samples, or as many as 20, so it takes significant time to run tests on each sample, according to the Statesman Journal.

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Technicians and analysts have to take their time and make detailed notes because their work may be used in a courtroom, and they may need to testify as to the results. Analysts can’t be in a hurry and must compare the physical evidence to the crime reported, including when and how the victim self-reported any contact with the perpetrator.

Technicians at state labs usually face backlogs, which is where the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative comes in.

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RAPE KIT BACKLOG

Starting in 2015, the SAKI grant-funded initiative has provided funds for 70 American agencies to open old kits that never got analyzed. In the six years since it’s been in operation, it is estimated that nearly 70,000 SAKs have been analyzed. The Department of Justice reports that hundreds of criminals have been arrested and convicted as a result of the program.

Daly was connected to his alleged victims through the program.

One of the initiatives stated goals is to “increase the collection of DNA for CODIS upload purposes…that may lead to the identification of serious and serial sex offenders.”

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Men who commit rape and other sex crimes sometimes commit other violent crimes, so getting them off the streets is benefits law enforcement and society. Once an individual is convicted of a sex crime, they are registered as sex offenders for life, and require a higher level of supervision than other felons.

The existence of SAKI enhances not only the integrity of rape kit processing but helps ensure the physical evidence will undergo full processing and DNA profiling, giving sexual assault victims more confidence in reporting a rape.

Since serial sexual offenders usually do not stop offending unless they are jailed or die, using rape kits to identify them is one of the best ways to prevent crime.

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A DNA MATCH

Daly was identified as a person of interest through a tip. He lived in Mesa, Bisbee, and finally Sierra Vista, Arizona. Once his name came up, police began looking into his background and discovered he owned property in Mesa and Bisbee close to several of the crime scenes, according to AZCentral.com.

During his crime spree — which covered at least July 1999 to October 2001 — he was employed by the U.S. Border Patrol. He began his career in November 1999, working out of the Douglas station close to the Mexico border. In 2019, he retired as a supervisory agent.

Daly fit the profile — an intruder who was confident enough to enter homes. He believed he would get away with the crimes, having a background in law enforcement. He knew his DNA had never been uploaded to a national database.

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The U.S. Marshals Arizona Violent Offender Task Force assisted local agencies in arresting Daly, who reached for his gun as authorities identified themselves. An officer used a stun gun to subdue him, but it had little effect as Daly is a large individual. Authorities resorted to shooting him with a shotgun firing beanbag rounds, according to court records.

Daly’s home, in an unincorporated part of Cochise County near the town of Hereford, yielded 279 guns.

He was taken into local custody on May 4, 2021, at Cochise County Jail and booked on multiple counts of sexual assault, kidnapping, sexual abuse and burglary.

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Authorities believe there is a chance he is the suspect who committed other crimes that were either unreported or for which crime scene evidence produced no DNA.

Daly was denied bail at a preliminary hearing.

During his hearing, the Bisbee victim testified. Prior to giving her statement, she could not stop shaking and crying, and had to leave the courtroom temporarily, with assistance. When she told of her ordeal, she mentioned she’d been praying for other victims over the last 20 years.

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