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‘Rape kit’ evidence brought down ‘Ether Man’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — “Ether Man” was a serial rapist who terrorized women for years.

He would break into homes and place a rag soaked in ether over the victim’s face, rendering them unconscious as he sexually assaulted them.

BRUCE: In sketch and mug shots

BRUCE: In sketch and mug shots

There were victim interviews and police artist sketches, but it was DNA evidence recovered from ‘rape kits’ and entered into the nationwide CODIS system that eventually brought Robert Howard Bruce to justice.

Years before the arrest, Bernalillo County prosecutors had moved to keep the case alive by filing an indictment against a “John Doe” rapist.

The John Doe’s DNA was entered into the CODIS system, and, almost a decade later, it matched the DNA of Robert Howard Bruce, whose DNA was entered in the CODIS system after his arrest in Colorado for trying to kill a Pueblo, Colo., police officer and pleading guilty to criminal attempt to commit sexual assault and first-degree burglary in Pueblo.

In 2012, Bruce was sentenced in Bernalillo County to 156 years after pleading guilty to eight charges of criminal sexual penetration, 11 charges of aggravated burglary and one charge of aggravated battery against 12 victims in Albuquerque over a period from 1991 to 2001. He also pleaded no contest to a ninth criminal sexual penetration charge.

His New Mexico sentence is being served concurrently with the 64-year prison sentence handed down in the Colorado courts for his crimes there.

If the sexual assault kits had not been processed by the APD crime lab – where up to 3,476 now sit untested – Bruce might never have been held accountable for his crimes here.

Law enforcement officials say the backlog in testing sex assault evidence kits defeats the purpose of the state and nationwide DNA databases like the CODIS system, which are designed to identifying possible suspects through DNA matches.

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