DNA matches close a pair of '90s rape cases

Mar 22 2012 - 5:54am

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Hernandez
Hernandez

OGDEN -- The defendant in the second of two late-1990s Ogden-area rape cases solved with DNA matches is up for sentencing as the State Crime Lab continues to churn through DNA databases.

Sergio Hernandez, 43, is to be sentenced April 19 in 2nd District Court for a Jan. 23, 1997, early morning rape that occurred behind Mount Ogden Middle School.

He was charged in September after DNA recovered from the crime scene and preserved was matched by the state crime lab with DNA recorded in a national database. Hernandez, formerly of Ogden, was held at the time in the Arkansas State Prison for a similar attack on a woman in that state in 2009.

In November, Deon Lucero, 39, was sentenced to 15 years to life in Utah State Prison for an Aug. 29, 1996, rape and robbery in Newgate Mall. A DNA match by the state crime lab found him in Mississippi State Prison on sexual battery charges. He'll finish his time there by 2016, then be transported to Utah.

Todd Van Buren, manager of the DNA database at the state crime lab, remembers processing the DNA matches for Lucero and Hernandez last year, both a little more dramatic than the usual fare in the office.

On average his office gets one match for every 350 DNA profiles they load into the state's database and a national one run by the FBI.

"To be honest they come in waves," Van Buren said. "We'll get seven hits in a week, then go weeks without one. It's kind of like a Fourth of July celebration when we get one."

Often they are for much less heinous offenses than rape, or involve offenses in another state, he said, so Lucero and Hernandez stick out in his memory.

But there have been other cases solved by DNA matches in Weber County in the past year, he said. For whatever reason, though, law enforcement has chosen not to mention them, he said, or the cases have not needed public evidence hearings before guilty pleas were entered.

Van Buren said the state database he maintains now holds 80,000 DNA profiles, and staff currently add about 10,000 a year.

When a match hits, it's a release, almost emotional, Van Buren said.

"You get excited. A soccer game analogy is appropriate. A lot of movement, but we only get the rare score."

The volume does create a backlog in entering DNA profiles in the database, he said; The lab outsources the initial searches to private testing companies. When a hit is recorded, it is verified -- double-checked -- by his lab in-house, Van Buren said.

The backlog has been as long as a year or more, he said, although currently it's about five months.

To date about 98 percent of the state's DNA database has been loaded into the FBI's national database, he said, which recently passed 10 million profiles.

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