Citizen Staff Writer
By LA MONICA EVERETT-HAYNES and A.J. FLICK
Daniel Aaron Lopez sat motionlessly and stared forward during the 15 minutes it took to read each verdict for the 36 charges against him.
By the end, a Pima County Superior Court jury had found the 27-year-old guilty of all sexual assault, aggravated assault, burglary and kidnapping – among other – charges stemming from rapes he committed from May 2004 until February.
“I want to thank you for all of your hard work in this case,” Judge Kenneth Lee told jurors yesterday. “It’s been an extremely hard case.”
Lee cited the “graphic information,” forensic evidence and numerous charges as factors that made the case difficult.
Three of the attacks were committed near the University of Arizona. Three were on the West Side, including two at an apartment complex near Pima Community College. One was on the South Side, near Lopez’s home.
Lopez was arrested March 15. Court records identified seven victims, four of whom were raped.
According to court records, Lopez said he knew there were “hot chicks” in the area, told police his wife didn’t always satisfy him and volunteered to give DNA samples.
After Lee announced that Lopez’s sentencing would be held Jan. 23, the courtroom became animated with hugs, smiles and a few high-fives.
One of Lopez’s victims was in court yesterday and sat smiling while watching him being walked out of the courtroom in handcuffs. She repeatedly told others she was “happy” with the outcome, but the young woman declined to be interviewed.
Lopez, a Tucson car salesman who is married and has four children, acknowledged two earlier felony convictions of attempted burglary and theft, which gives the judge discretion on whether a more severe sentencing is necessary.
Deputy County Attorney Angela Woolridge said palm prints partially led to Lopez’s conviction. He faces a prison sentence of between 52 and 400 years, she said.
The seven victims were young college students.
They were assaulted at their homes and at night or early morning when it was darkest. One victim was raped on the lawn of her rented home.
In addition to being forceful, Woolridge said, in the five cases in which the victim was raped, Lopez kissed the victims on the breast and no other body part, spoke in a soft voice and told the victims to wait for a time after he left before screaming.
Speaking Wednesday, defense attorney Michael Lange said investigators influenced the evidence.
Lange asked, “Are these crimes linked by evidence? Or are they linked because of the way they were pulled together?”
Prosecutors said a shoe print left at one crime scene pointed to Lopez.
Lange said no one bothered to check if the print’s size was the same as the shoe Lopez was wearing when he was arrested.
“What was intended here was a clean sweep” of the serial rapes by blaming Lopez, Lange said.
DNA evidence, including a mysterious DNA profile of an unidentified woman, played a big role in Lopez’s trial.
Jurors were told that a gold earring found at Lopez’s home that belonged to one victim had neither her DNA nor any male’s, but that of an unidentified woman.
Investigators said the unknown DNA came from outside the Tucson Police Department’s crime lab and may be due to a mishap at the manufacturer who shipped testing materials to the police. Lange said jurors should decide whether such tainted evidence contaminates the whole case against Lopez.
After the verdict, Woolridge said concerns of crime lab contamination “had no bearing” on Lopez’s case.
Though Woolridge said prosecutors had no expectations when they arrived in court, they were pleased when they left.
“I could never imagine what victims are going through or what they have gone through,” Woolridge said, “but I think this is maybe some small sense of security.”