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SANTA ANA : DNA Sex Crime Case Brings 47-Year Term

Orange County Focus

June 13, 1991|JERRY HICKS

A Long Beach man who pleaded guilty to sexual assault charges involving nine victims after a judge permitted DNA evidence against him was sentenced Wednesday to more than 47 years in prison.

Attorneys for Phillip Michael Gross, 29, had argued to Superior Court Judge Theodore E. Millard that results of FBI testing of DNA samples were open to such vague interpretation that a jury could not sort it all out properly. But Millard disagreed, calling the reliability of the such evidence "very high."

Millard's ruling in April came on the eve of Gross' trial on 25 counts of sexual assault. His case would have been the first in Orange County in which a jury heard DNA evidence. But a week later Gross pleaded guilty to the charges.

Gross was accused of sexually assaulting women he robbed at knifepoint, usually lone attendants at small businesses either at the beginning of the workday or near closing hours, during a three-month period in 1989.

Gross was arrested after a witness recalled seeing his name tag showing he worked at McDonnell Douglas. He had walked into a store wearing it, left briefly, and then returned without it, but the witness remembered it. Gross was arrested at McDonnell Douglas a few days later.

In each of the cases, the victims were able to identify Gross in a lineup as their attacker. But it was the DNA evidence that persuaded him to change his plea, according to lawyers involved in the case.

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is found in blood and body fluids and carries a person's unique genetic coding. Experts say the odds of two people having the same DNA--with the exception of identical twins--is usually one in several billion.

Police investigators were able to gather semen at the scene of four of the assaults, and sent it to the FBI lab for testing, since Orange County's own DNA lab was not yet in operation. The FBI results showed that there was only one chance in 200 million that anyone but Gross could have been the attacker.

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