On Monday, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley announced that her office had arrested and filed felony charges against a 59-year-old man in connection with two sexual assaults that took place during a four-month period in 1997. Although police officers have had samples of the suspect's DNA for more than 22 years, he wasn't identified until a relative's interest in genealogy and his own Baskin Robbins spoon connected him to both violent crimes.
The first victim was attacked on May 6, 1997 as she walked toward the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in Union City, California. Her assailant dragged her to a remote area, cut her clothing off with a knife, and sexually assaulted her. According to a Declaration of Probable Cause from the Union City Police Department, the victim "spit the suspect's ejaculate out of her mouth and onto the inside portion of her jacket."
The jacket was sent to the Alameda County Crime Lab for testing, and it matched the DNA that had been collected from the scene of a second sexual assault, which had been reported in Livermore, California in September 1997. The DNA samples were both submitted to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database for comparison with the profiles of known offenders, but no connection could be made. And that's where things stopped, for more than two decades.
In May, that unknown suspect's DNA was sent to a private lab, uploaded into a separate database, and analyzed using Genetic Genealogy. Those results identified a possible relative of the assailant, and officers from both the Union City and Livermore Police Departments collaborated to further identify their suspect. (The notorious Golden State Killer was ultimately identified using a similar method.)
That family tree led to Gregory Paul Vien, a 60-year-old maintenance man and married father of three who had lived in Livermore for the past 30 years. Vien was arrested shortly after the officers who'd been following him collected a Baskin Robbins spoon that he'd thrown away after eating a scoop of ice cream. When the DNA on the spoon was tested, it was a match for the DNA samples that had been taken from the first victim's jacket, and from the scene of the second assault.
"For over 20 years, the survivors of these sexual assaults have lived with the constant uncertainty that comes with not knowing when, if ever, their assailant will be identified and brought to justice,” District Attorney O’Malley said in a statement. "The police agencies never gave up, nor let these investigations go cold. Their dedication, tenacity and excellent investigative work, has now paid off in the arrest of Mr. Vien."
Union City Police Detective Joshua Clubb re-interviewed the victim of the May 1997 assault shortly after Vien's arrest. She told him that she was afraid that her assailant was going to kill her on the night she was attacked, and said that being a victim of that crime had a "profound effect" on her life.
She also said that yes, she still wanted the man who assaulted her to be prosecuted.