2007-07-27 / Front Page

DNA Links Far Rock Man To Violent Rapes

By Brian Magoolaghan

You can hide from the cops and try to elude justice, but as an alleged rapist from Far Rockaway found out this week, it's impossible to escape your own DNA.

There was an all-out manhunt in Far Rockaway on a chilly February morning three years ago, after a 12-year-old girl was viciously raped near 1124 Bay 27 Street on her way to school. Her attacker grabbed her from behind as she took a shortcut through a backyard near her home at about 8 a.m. He dragged her into the bushes, pulled her dress over her head, punched her several times and then raped her, according to police and published reports. He took her $3 lunch money and fled when he was spotted by the girl's teenage brother.

An intense search for a suspect ensued. Police officers scoured Far Rockaway for hours, concentrating on the Bayswater area and the Redfern Houses project. They used bloodhounds on the ground and searched from above by helicopter. They made several unrelated arrests which produced no leads.

The victim, whose name is being withheld by authorities due to the nature of the incident, was taken to St. John's Episcopal Hospital, where evidence was collected as part of a rape kit.

Police found a stolen SUV that he might have used for his getaway, and the next day they released a sketch and physical description of the man to the media. But sources told The Wave they had doubts over whether a suspect would ever be brought to justice, and traditional crime-solving techniques seemed to bear no fruit.

The incident dropped out of the news and the NYPD's case went cold. But then, last November, a convicted felon from Far Rockaway - serving three years in an Ulster County prison for grand larceny - was required by law to give a DNA sample for registry in a nationwide database. Prosecutors say the sample not only matched the DNA contained in the rape kit from the case involving the 12-year-old girl, it also matched a rape kit from an armed rape and robbery of a Queens couple in 1996.

Richard Thomas, 40, who is registered at his mother's address at 2234 New Haven Avenue in Far Rockaway, was arraigned in Queens Supreme Court Wednesday on charges of firstdegree rape, robbery, unlawful imprisonment, criminal use of a firearm and endangering the welfare of a child, according to Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown. He faces up to 75 years in prison if convicted.

Thomas' indictment is due in part to the tenacity of one of his victims in the 1996 case, identified by The Daily News as Carol Dickerson. She and her boyfriend were in a car, sitting at a traffic light, on August 17, 1996, when Thomas allegedly approached with a gun, robbed the boyfriend and ordered him into the trunk of the car. Then, prosecutors say, he raped Dickerson in a nearby lot, afterwards locking her in the trunk as well.

Dickerson would eventually join then-Governor George Pataki in lobbying the legislation in Albany so that those convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors would have to register their DNA - genetic material contained in bodily fluid, hair and tissue that is used to reliably distinguish between individuals.

"If it had not been for the DNA expansion law enacted in 2006, these cases would have remained unsolved," Brown said in announcing the indictment. "This case underscores yet again the crucial importance of DNA evidence which is irrefutable proof of guilt or innocence."

Thomas' attorney, Richard Haftofilis, declined to comment at this time.

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