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DNA identifies rape suspect

Jan 24, 2006 | www.gazette.com

Claudia Lambert no longer scans men’s faces, wondering if she’s looking at the one who raped her.

She did that for more than four years after a masked man kicked in the door of her Green Mountain Falls home in July 2001, blindfolded her and raped her. She didn’t know if the attacker was a neighbor, a co-worker, a stranger.

“I watched every man,” she said. “I looked at how tall they were, what kind of build they had. The first year, I did that every moment of my life.”

El Paso County sheriff’s investigators think they know who the attacker is: Daniel Hayes, a convicted rapist serving 21 years in Kentucky.

Until recently, detectives had the rapist’s DNA profile but no name. Then the profile hit a match in a national database, identifying Hayes.

On Tuesday, 4½ years after the assault, 48-year-old Hayes was served an arrest warrant on suspicion of raping Lambert, 61.

Lambert, who wanted her name used for this story, doesn’t know Hayes. She got the call a few months ago that the DNA had been linked to a prisoner.

“I drove down the road and thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m safe,’” she said. “That was a revelation for me. The world lit up.”

The case is groundbreaking for the 4th Judicial District.

It’s the first time in El Paso and Teller counties that an arrest warrant was obtained based solely on DNA. Usually, warrants are filed in the suspect’s name.

Sheriff’s detective Cliff Porter said he believes Hayes is a serial rapist.

Hayes, a traveling construction worker, served four years in California in an attempted sexual assault-related case and was imprisoned in Kentucky in 2004 for first-degree rape and first-degree sexual abuse, Porter said.

“This guy for a decade had been traveling back and forth between California and Florida,” Porter said. “It is the perfect cover and employment if you’re a serial rapist. You live in motels. No one knows you. You’re a shadow.”

Porter, 33, who also investigates homicides, took a cigar to Kentucky to celebrate making an arrest in the first case he was assigned as a detective.

“This case really shows the true nature of Cliff Porter,” Sheriff Terry Maketa said. “Over time, your detectives will get frustrated and lose interest, but Cliff will really stay with a case.”

A bang woke Lambert.

She could see the front door from her bedroom, then heard another bang. The locked door flew open, ripping off a piece of the door trim. A man in a ski mask came in.

Sheriff’s records detail what happened:

“Please don’t hurt me!” Lambert cried out, curling up in a fetal position.

She’d been alone in the house. It was after 2 a.m. on July 23, 2001.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” he told her.

He removed a slip from her dresser, used it to blindfold her and asked if it was too tight. He had more questions: her name, if she had a boyfriend, her age.

He took off her pajamas, then his pants.

“I wish I could take you out instead of doing this,” he said.

He kept asking if she was OK, if she was enjoying herself.

After raping her, he led her to the shower and made her bathe. Keep the blindfold on for five minutes, he told her. She was afraid if she took it off, he’d be standing there.

After a while, she removed it. He was gone. The bathroom clock read: 6:10 a.m.

Lambert reported a crime that goes largely unreported only an estimated 16 percent of sexual assaults are investigated by police.

“I was angry,” she said. “I didn’t allow myself to get angry the whole time he was there. I thought I was going to die, and I did everything I needed to do to live.”

In the beginning, many people were potential suspects: Lambert’s boyfriend, her neighbors and a registered sex offender in the area.

“The first 30 days after it happened, I wasn’t alone in a room, except to go to the bathroom,” she said.

She packed up her home and moved in with her boyfriend in Woodland Park.

“Let me try and keep you as safe as I can,” she remembered him telling her. They married in November 2001.

The bed sheets and other evidence were taken to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to test for DNA. Months later, results showed seminal fluid and blood samples, and a DNA profile was developed in November 2003.

Still, investigators didn’t have a name, only a genetic code.

Porter and prosecutor Diana May of the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office researched how to compile a John Doe warrant for a deoxyribonucleic acid profile.

Such DNA warrants are becoming more common. They stop the clock on the statute of limitations, usually 10 years for rape.

The same month Lambert was assaulted, the Colorado Legislature passed a law abolishing the statute of limitations on certain crimes in which detectives have DNA evidence.

In Lambert’s case, the profile was entered into a state database and into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. Months passed, then years.

“The goal of CODIS is to allow law enforcement nationwide to solve unsolved crimes,” May said. “We sat there and I said, ‘We don’t have any leads. Unless something comes up, I can’t do anything about your case.’”

A match was made in September, to a prisoner in Kentucky. Hayes was serving time on a conviction of raping a former relative at her home.

After the conviction, Hayes’ DNA was entered into CODIS. The match in September meant Porter could make an arrest. He told Lambert by phone, then met with her.

“I saw a smile on Claudia’s face that day,” he said. “It was one of the better feelings I’ve had as a cop.”

The next step is to extradict Hayes to Colorado for possible trial. If he’s convicted of assaulting Lambert, he’ll be sent to prison in Colorado after serving his sentence in Kentucky.

Porter has begun calling police departments nationwide where Hayes worked or traveled including California, Florida, Arizona, Michigan and New Mexico to see if any unsolved rapes are similar to the one he was convicted for in Kentucky.

That case is similar to Lambert’s: he blindfolded the woman with her clothing, was polite and brought a rape kit that included a vibrator for himself when he couldn’t maintain an erection.

Lambert has one question for her rapist: why did he choose her?

A mental health therapist at the time of the assault, she now counsels people with drug addictions and sometimes rape victims.

The first few times she told her story, she was surprised by the response.

“I just figured people wouldn’t want to hear about it, that they’d be uncomfortable,” she said. “It blew me away how supportive they were, and they asked questions.”

Many rape victims try to erase what happened and move on only to realize years later the pain is still there, said Cari Davis, executive director of TESSA, a sexual-assault prevention center.

“Sexual assault is the type of crime that profoundly changes its victims,” Davis said. “Victims of sexual assault can heal. However, you never go back to the place where you were before the assault.”

Lambert, who wants to be a fulltime rape therapist, is focusing on healing.

“I decided I would never consider myself a victim but a survivor, and I would live through it,” she said. “That’s the message I want to send.”


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