Rhode Island Man faces trial in 2007 sex assault case

By Laura Crimaldi

Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Nearly five years ago, police say a 16-year-old girl was picked up while she was walking from a party on the east side of Providence, driven to a vacant lot, sexually assaulted and threatened by a man with a knife.

After the attack, the girl went to Hasbro Children's Hospital, where DNA samples were taken with a rape kit. But it wasn't until a bank robbery case in East Greenwich years later that police got evidence to solve the case.

Under state law, Jason Nickerson, 31, had to submit a DNA sample after pleading no contest to second-degree robbery in 2010. A little more than two months later, a DNA match linked Nickerson to the assault in Providence and another in Connecticut, according to a police affidavit.

Opening statements in Nickerson's case were made Monday, and he is also facing a separate indictment for first-degree domestic sexual assault charges, said Amy Kempe, a spokeswoman for state Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin.

Kempe said prosecutors do not recall another cold case involving sexual assault going to trial with DNA evidence obtained under the law, which has been on the books since 1998. Two other previously unsolved sexual assaults from 2004 and 2009 were also recently solved in the same manner, resulting in indictments.

The cases highlight the power of DNA evidence to solve sexual assault cold cases at a time when lawmakers are considering whether to require anyone arrested for a violent crime submit a sample. The bill passed the Senate and is under review by the House Judiciary Committee; 26 states have enacted similar measures.

"Many of these offenders repeat the crime and clearly that's what we're seeing in these two particular cases," said Peg Langhammer, executive director of Day One in Providence, a nonprofit that counsels and advocates for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

DNA evidence "can really be a tool of prevention as well as a tool of justice," Langhammer said.

In the Providence case, investigators had little to work with before the DNA match.

The teen was picked up, then driven around for about 30 minutes before the driver stopped in a parking lot, locked the doors and demanded oral sex, an affidavit said.

The girl didn't know where she was, Police Maj. Thomas Oates III said. She tried to escape but was punched repeatedly in the head and told that if she continued to resist, she and her family would be killed, the affidavit said.

After three hours, the teen was driven elsewhere and ordered out of the vehicle. The man took her cellphone and pocketbook and threatened her again, the affidavit said. She called a friend, who picked her up, and police were called. She was taken to a hospital, where a rape kit was done.

A few days later, Oates said the girl was shown a couple of photo arrays, but she could not identify her attacker. There would be no developments for three years.

The man now accused of the attack remained free but not out of trouble. In 2008, Nickerson was arrested a few weeks after an in East Greenwich bank was robbed when police got a tip that his wife was bragging about her husband making off with thousands of dollars in a bank holdup, Detective Lt. Jeremy Fague said.

After Nickerson pleaded no contest in the bank robbery case, a DNA match came back linking him to the two sex assaults, an affidavit said. The victim in the Connecticut case, however, did not want to go forward, Oates said.

Last year, a grand jury indicted Nickerson in the 2007 sexual assault. About a month later, he was indicted in a separate case accusing him of domestic sexual assault. Nickerson has pleaded not guilty in both cases. His public defender, Michelle M. Alves, did not return messages seeking comment.

In the other cold cases, Armand "Joey" Ferrio, 25, of Woonsocket, was indicted in February on three counts of first-degree sexual assault for the attacks in 2004 and 2009. He was linked through a DNA match after pleading no contest in 2011 to assaulting a man with a glass bottle and knife, court records showed.

In the 2004 case, the woman, now 45, said she was assaulted outside of a building, said Woonsocket Detective Lt. Eugene T. Jalette. The 2009 assault took place in an apartment while the victim was sleeping, Jalette said. Both accusers gave descriptions, but they weren't enough to go on, Jalette said.

Ferrio has pleaded not guilty. Geiselman said he has received preliminary statements and DNA findings, but awaits more evidence.

"I'm still reviewing the quote, unquote DNA evidence to see if it does in fact match," Geiselman said.

The legislation on DNA samples raises questions of privacy.

The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is opposing the bill. The ACLU says the proposal tramples on people's privacy and ignores the cost of testing and the testing backlog that has put limits on how much evidence police departments can submit to the state's forensic laboratory. The state says the backlog is about six months, but the lab works with officials to prioritize cases.

RI ACLU Executive Director Steve Brown said he is also concerned that a proposed system to expunge DNA records for people who have been exonerated falls short.

"Collecting evidence from someone who is presumed innocent is something that people ought to care about," Brown said.

Published: Wed, Apr 4, 2012


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