Update: An Omaha man charged with five rapes in the past decade will remain in the Douglas County Jail. Anthony Vaughn, 41, was denied bail Monday, his first court appearance since his arrest in Norfolk this past weekend.
A public defender was appointed to represent Vaughn, who said he couldn't afford to hire an attorney. He told the judge that he worked at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant near the Westroads shopping center.
Almost two years ago, Anthony G. Vaughn sat before a judge in a Douglas County courtroom — having pleaded guilty to burglarizing the home of his son's Bible study teacher.
He blamed the break-in on “wet” — marijuana laced with embalming fluid. He cast the crime as “completely out of my character.” Before the judge put him on probation for three years, Vaughn talked about how he wanted to “continue to work and be a good member of society.”
Now, a DNA sample taken from Vaughn — as a consequence of that burglary conviction — has painted the 41-year-old Omaha man as something far more sinister: an alleged serial rapist.
Using his DNA sample, Omaha police have linked Vaughn to the rapes of five Omaha women dating back to 1999.
Authorities say the arrest is the product of an FBI database of DNA profiles and a recent change in Nebraska law requiring all felons, such as Vaughn, to give DNA samples.
But Vaughn's arrest also comes with unanswered questions — namely, whether he is suspected in other rapes and how he was able to earn a sexual-assault acquittal just months before the alleged spree began.
In February 1999, Vaughn went on trial in the alleged rape of a woman he met at a bar. Prosecutors maintained that he forced the woman to have sex with him at a downtown apartment, then threatened to kill her.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said prosecutors ably presented a case against him. Vaughn said the encounter was consensual. A jury acquitted him Feb. 8, 1999.
Seven months later, on Sept. 7, 1999, an Omaha woman heard a noise in the basement of her home near 37th and U Streets. She went downstairs and was jumped by a man who told her: “Don't look at my face. Shut up or I'll cut you,” according to a police report.
He threw her to the floor, touched her and raped her. He then ordered her into the furnace room and left. She was unable to identify her attacker.
Omaha police collected evidence from sexual assault kits — in which nurses search for suspect semen, hairs or skin cells — from that woman and four others who were attacked over the next decade.
DNA labs developed a profile of a single attacker for all five rapes. The only problem: The DNA profile matched no known offenders.
Omaha police received a letter last week from the Nebraska State Patrol DNA laboratory saying it had run Vaughn's profile through CODIS, the FBI's Combined DNA Index System. The State Patrol's lab indicated a match between Vaughn's DNA and evidence collected from three Omaha women. Subsequent comparisons at another DNA lab led to matches to evidence collected from two other Omaha women.
An arrest warrant was issued, charging Vaughn with five counts of first-degree sexual assault.
Vaughn — who portrayed himself on Facebook as a ladies' man, a prankster and a concerned father — was taken into custody early Sunday.
Vaughn is believed to be one of two assailants who sexually assaulted women in midtown Omaha, though he also is alleged to have struck elsewhere. Another man — Anthony Layton, also known as the “Midtown Molester'' — was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to 50 to 70 years in prison.
Prosecutors say the 1999 attack on the South Omaha woman was the first of five rapes, from 1999 to 2009, that would bear similar signatures. A man breaks in and subdues his victim. Touches her. Rapes her. Threatens to kill her.
The rapes spanned from midtown (49th and California Streets, 39th and Farnam Streets, 49th Street and Underwood Avenue) to South Omaha (22nd and Pacific Streets, 37th and U Streets).
According to the warrant for Vaughn's arrest:
» At 2:30 a.m. Dec. 27, 2005 — six years after the sexual assault of the South Omaha woman — a then-28-year-old woman fell asleep on her couch at her home near 49th and California Streets. She awoke with her pants and underwear down and an unknown man penetrating her. The woman tried to push him off. He eventually left. The woman was unable to identify the attacker.
A nurse performed a sexual assault examination on her and collected evidence the attacker left behind. It was submitted to the State Patrol DNA lab.
» At 4:15 a.m. March 15, 2008, a then-23-year-old woman was awakened by a noise at her house near 39th and Farnam Streets. She saw a shadow moving so she used her cellphone to light up the room. A man told her not to look at him and pushed her head away from him. The man touched her, put his hand over her mouth and told her he had a gun. She tried to fend him off by telling him she had an STD. He rubbed his penis against her vagina and ran away.
Evidence was collected with a sexual assault kit and submitted to a lab, this time at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
» At 2:20 a.m. May 16, 2009, a then-18-year-old woman arrived at her home near 22nd and Pacific Streets to find the back door unlocked. She locked the door and checked the house but was unable to find anyone.
She fell asleep, only to awake to find someone opening her bedroom door. Thinking it was her boyfriend, the woman sat up in bed. A man pushed her down, put his hand over her face and said: “Don't move or I'll cut you.” He touched her, raped her and left. The woman couldn't identify her attacker. Sexual assault evidence was collected and sent to UNMC.
» At 2:10 a.m. Aug. 1, 2009, a then-21-year-old awoke at her home at 49th Street and Underwood Avenue to find a man standing over her. The man put his arm across her neck and shoulders and held her down, covering her mouth and turning her head away from him. He made a remark about her breasts, touched her and penetrated her with his fingers. Sexual assault evidence was collected and sent to UNMC.
In 2010, state lawmakers expanded the Nebraska DNA Testing Act so authorities could collect samples from anyone convicted of a felony. Because of that, Vaughn's felony burglary conviction in September 2011 meant he had to submit to a cheek swab so authorities could obtain a sample of his DNA.
It is unclear why it took 20 months for authorities to run Vaughn's DNA through the FBI's computerized database of crimes with DNA profiles, Kleine said.
Authorities also are investigating whether Vaughn has assaulted others — either in the six-year gap between the first two known rapes in Omaha, or in the three years since the last alleged rape.
Vaughn has been out on probation since September 2011. And he has been active on Facebook.
In the couple weeks before his arrest, he posted several comments and photos. In some, he's clowning for the camera. In others, he's pining for his children.
“Well leaving Nebraska,” he wrote. “ Damn im gonna miss my kids. ... Daddy loves u and (to my son) wish we could of made up we never went this long without talking and it killed everything in me.”
In an April 6 Facebook post, he wrote this next to a photo of his son: “My baby god i know i dont pray much but please let me see my baby again.”
Back in September 2011, Vaughn was pleading for mercy from Judge J Russell Derr.
He blamed “wet” for the burglary he committed and said he had no idea he had broken into the home of his son's Bible study teacher.
But the recent DNA test results have authorities looking at that burglary in a new light and wondering whether Vaughn had other motives before he got spooked by the sound of police sirens approaching.
The 51-year-old woman was about to take a shower at her house near 89th Street and Western Avenue. A neighbor spotted a man trying to break in and called police.
Police arrived and found Vaughn three blocks away, holding the woman's jar of coins.
At the sentencing hearing, Derr noted that the burglary was Vaughn's first felony conviction. Derr cited that fact and Vaughn's apparent regret in deciding to place him on three years of probation.
Vaughn, who had faced up to five years of probation or 20 years in prison, told the judge he was embarrassed by his actions.
“I don't think, by my crime, I should get off easy,” Vaughn told the judge. “I'm going to try to continue to work and be a good member of society.”
“You realize this wasn't just a victimless crime,” Derr said. “It affected you, your family, your children ....”
At that, Vaughn piped up.
“And the community as well,” he said.
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