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Rape Suspect Charged With 57 Criminal Counts

Ventura County

Hearing: Vincent Sanchez does not enter a plea to accusations involving 11 attacks. His roommates explain why they became suspicious.

August 01, 2001|MARGARET TALEV and TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A suspected serial rapist was charged with 57 criminal counts Tuesday for allegedly sexually assaulting 11 women in Simi Valley during the past five years.

Vincent Henry Sanchez, a 30-year-old part-time movie studio employee, appeared briefly in Ventura County Superior Court but did not enter a plea to the charges, which include counts of kidnapping, rape and assault with a deadly weapon. His arraignment was postponed until Aug. 10.

Sanchez is being held in lieu of $1-million bail. Prosecutors will ask a judge this week to hold him without bail, however, saying that he poses a threat to the community.

"The defendant has been terrorizing Simi Valley for the past five years," Deputy Dist. Atty. Lisa Lee said after Tuesday's hearing. "He is an extreme danger."

Police said they were awaiting the results of DNA tests, which they hope will directly link Sanchez to at least three rapes. This week they obtained a search warrant to compel Sanchez to provide a blood or saliva sample, a police spokesman said.

Sanchez is accused of breaking into the homes of women late at night and sexually assaulting them at knifepoint. In other cases, he allegedly kidnapped women, drove them to isolated locations and attacked them.

Despite a five-year investigation that included a six-member task force, analysis of hundreds of DNA samples and assistance from the FBI and other agencies, Simi Valley police said they had no solid leads until last week.

The break came after Sanchez was arrested Thursday on suspicion of an unrelated burglary at a neighbor's home. Over the weekend, his roommates searched the house and uncovered evidence they believed linked Sanchez to sexual assaults.

One of the roommates contacted police, and Sanchez was arrested Sunday on suspicion of rape, burglary and kidnapping.

On Tuesday, his roommates recalled the break in the case.

Their neighbors had told them that several items were missing from a house they were selling, including a shower head and a screen door.

When Sanchez's roommates checked their rented five-bedroom tract house, they found some of the missing items stashed around the yard, they said.

Adding to their growing suspicions, roommate Steve Frueh recalled Tuesday, was a call from Sanchez from jail--a call that ultimately led one of the roommates to call police.

"Vincent said, 'You need to dig something out of the trash for me, personal pictures of me and my girlfriend,' " Frueh said.

Frueh said Sanchez asked him to dispose of the items.

"I said OK, but then I got curious," he said. "I opened the bag up and it wasn't him and his girlfriend. It was nasty pictures and videotapes . . . six or eight pairs of panties, gold jewelry."

The roommates flipped through two dozen or so pictures, Frueh said, and saw women they did not know. The women were naked on beds or in chairs, in some cases tied up. In most, their eyes were half-shut and appeared glazed over, Frueh said.

Roommate Josh Reno watched part of one video; he said it showed a man wearing a mask, gloves and black clothing, and a naked woman whose leg appeared to be bleeding. He said police asked him not to share other details about the video and the accompanying audio.

"Once I saw it, it was full shock," he said. "I called 911."

On Tuesday, the home Sanchez shared with four roommates had been turned inside-out by police. Cushions from a sofa had been taken for lab tests. Clothing, videotapes and other items were strewn about the living room floor.

Sanchez has lived at the home for five years. He had become increasingly aggressive, reclusive and unreliable over the course of the last year, his roommates said, borrowing money and treating his girlfriend poorly. Still, they said, there was no reason to believe he was involved in anything sinister.

"We didn't have a clue," said Frueh, who has lived at the house only two months, but has been Sanchez's neighbor and acquaintance for years. "I feel like puking. My stomach feels kind of queasy."

Reno, who has lived at the house for four years, said he and Sanchez initially were buddies. The two took trips together. On their travels, Sanchez usually took a video camera, Reno said. The videos were goofy and harmless, usually involving the roommates hamming it up.

Reno said they visited Sanchez's parents in the Palmdale area, whom he described as caring and stable. Reno said Sanchez also had a brother who seemed friendly and usually paid Sanchez's rent for him.

But Reno and Frueh said their relationship with Sanchez soured over time.

Los Angeles court records show that Sanchez served two years in state prison for injuring the child of a former girlfriend while they lived together in Lancaster.

Simi Valley police said Sanchez also has a record for burglary.

Sanchez faces consecutive life prison terms if found guilty of the rape charges and related allegations.

*

Times staff writer Holly Wolcott contributed to this story.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Simi Valley Assaults

Here is a list of sexual assaults authorities suspect were committed by Vincent Henry Sanchez from 1996 through 2000. Several of the crimes involved several assaults, and nearly all involved residential burglaries.

*--*

Sept. 2, 1996 Rape of a 19-year-old woman Jan. 12, 1997 Assault of a 21-year-old woman June 14, 1997 Kidnapping of an 18-year-old woman Oct. 25, 1997 Kidnapping of a 15-year-old girl March 22, 1998 Rape of a 15-year-old girl May 4, 1999 Kidnapping and rape of a 25-year-old woman Oct. 31, 1999 Kidnapping and rape of a 20-year-old woman Feb. 11, 2000 Rape of a 35-year-old woman March 15, 2000 Assault of a 23-year-old woman March 16, 2000 Kidnapping and rape of a 22-year-old woman Nov. 9, 2000 Assault of a 29-year-old woman

*--*

Source: Ventura County district attorney's office

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