Pierce County prosecutors have charged a man with first-degree child rape in the sexual assault of a 9-year-old girl in a vacant Parkland field 13 years ago.
Antonio Nieves, 30, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Friday. Bail was set at $500,000.
Nieves was charged earlier this week after his DNA was linked to evidence recovered from the rape scene.
According to charging papers:
The child’s mother reported the assault on Aug. 16, 2000. The girl had followed a stray dog to an area near a senior home where Nieves was outside talking to other people. Nieves told the child the dog had puppies and offered to show her where they were. He allegedly took the girl to a field and sexually assaulted her.
Detectives interviewed witnesses who recalled Nieves offering to show the girl puppies. They learned his mother lived at the senior home at the time.
He was identified as a suspect within two days of the rape, but prosecutors chose not to charge him because the victim couldn’t pick him out of a photo lineup.
Years later, after being convicted of drug and assault charges, Nieves’ DNA was entered into the Combined DNA Index System. Technicians at the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab got a DNA hit on Nieves in 2008 but assumed the match was for one of his convictions, according to court records.
The sheriff’s detective working the rape case was never notified of the DNA hit.
Tacoma police detective Lindsey Wade, who works cold case rapes for the police and sheriff’s departments, reopened the case in July and noticed the error. She requested another DNA comparison and found Nieves’ DNA matched that of the victim’s attacker.
“The beauty of it is the cold case unit is working,” deputy prosecutor Heather Demaine said.
The sheriff’s department said it will double check Nieves’ DNA against other unsolved rapes.