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Janitor, Freed From Jail, Wants Sheriff's Apology : Investigation: Held for 33 days in molestation case, man is angry alibi wasn't believed.

April 24, 1993|DAVID REYES and MATT LAIT | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

ANAHEIM — A 46-year-old school janitor, jailed for 33 days on suspicion of molesting a child until DNA tests cleared him, said Friday that he and his family are angry the Sheriff's Department didn't believe his alibi.

"I still don't believe this happened to me," Marco Antonio Reyes said at the Anaheim office of his attorney.

Reyes, who was released from jail at 1 a.m. Friday, had been charged with sexually molesting a 9-year-old girl at Villa Park High School on March 20 while a swim meet was in progress.

Reyes and his family had maintained that he was home when the attack occurred.

Reyes' son, Marco Jr., said: "He took all the blood tests, he took DNA tests. He cooperated because he knew he was innocent."

To Maria Reyes, seeing her husband in jail "was hell."

"He said to take care of our family, especially our little boy," she said, fighting back tears as she grabbed her husband's two hands and pressed them tight. "I kept my head up high. . . . We're decent people. He was my sweetheart at 16 years old."

Sheriff's crime lab experts on Wednesday concluded that a series of the DNA tests showed that the genetic makeup of Reyes did not match that of semen stains on a towel at the crime scene.

Reyes had been arrested after witnesses had identified him as being in the area at the time of the assault. He was also one of the few people who had keys to a coach's locker room where the attack occurred. In addition, the victim identified him as her attacker from a photographic lineup after his arrest.

He was charged with one felony count of kidnaping and five felony counts of forcible child molestation.

"The circumstantial evidence was very strong against him," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Charles J. Middleton.

On Friday, Reyes and his family said they were angry at the amount of time it took to determine his innocence. Middleton, however, said sheriff's investigators gave the DNA testing top priority.

"In fact, this was one of the shortest times it has taken for DNA testing," Middleton said.

With technical labs, law enforcement investigators can take tiny samples of blood, hair or semen and break it down into the cell fragments that contain deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, which carries the genetic code unique to each individual.

Often, law enforcement agencies wait weeks, sometimes even months, to get DNA test results. But it's worth the wait, authorities say, when a criminal is taken off the street or a innocent man like Reyes can be exonerated on the weight of the DNA findings. Supporters of the DNA testing say that it can identify a person as conclusively as a fingerprint.

Although the validity of DNA evidence has been challenged by defense lawyers, it has been used successfully for identification purposes in U.S. courts since the mid-1980s.

"DNA is there for a purpose, and it has served its purpose in this case, the same as when people are identified as being the guilty party," Sheriff's Lt. Dick Olson said.

With Reyes' release, sheriff's investigators are back to "square one," Olson said. He declined to discuss the case or any criminal evidence investigators have, because it is an ongoing investigation.

"I'd like to discuss it, but I can't," he said.

Middleton said that on the day of the attack, a second girl at the school had reported seeing a man exposing himself. Dennis O'Connell, Reyes' attorney, said the girl had described someone entirely different from his client, "someone who parted his hair and there was no mention of facial hair." Reyes has a thick mustache and a goatee.

"The family has expressed to me their concerns that the real perpetrator of the offense is still out there, and had a broader investigation been conducted in the beginning, maybe they would have apprehended that person," O'Connell said.

Meanwhile, Olson said that he will relay a request made by Reyes at the news conference for a formal apology from the Orange County sheriff.

"I think the guy deserves an apology and we are sorry that the wrong person was put in jail," Middleton said. "But I don't think that the Sheriff's Department or our office did anything improper."

The experience, Reyes said, has tainted him as a child molester. Going back to work at the school district, he said, "will never be the same. People will look at me as if I did something wrong. . . . It will be difficult."

His lawyer will seek a hearing to expunge Reyes' criminal record.

Officials of the Orange Unified School District said that Reyes would be reinstated with back pay as a janitor at Villa Park High School.

"We will treat him as if this did not happen and hope that (the) public will treat him with the fact that he is innocent and is not a criminal," Joyce Capelle, a district spokeswoman, said in a release.

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