A man accused of breaking into a motel room and sexually assaulting a woman in Mountain View pleaded guilty Tuesday, prosecutors said. He faces 25 years to life in prison.
Van Overton Jr., a resident of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was arrested in February after DNA evidence linked him to a sexual assault that occurred in Mountain View in 2004. He pleaded guilty on Aug. 4 to forced oral copulation, which he committed during a residential burglary, according to Deputy District Attorney Barbara Cathcart. The plea deal dismisses three other charges, but carries a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life in state prison.
Police say the victim, 42 years old at the time, was staying at the now-redeveloped Lucky U Motel on Fairchild Drive in February 2004. Overton reportedly found some way to get into the room and sexually assaulted her for nearly half an hour before leaving. Officers could not locate the suspect at the time, but took DNA evidence from the hotel room pillow.
Finding a match took 16 years, a delay that can be traced to a backlog of testing in Albuquerque. Another victim had been sexually assaulted in 1997 and had submitted a SART kit, also known as a rape kit, with Overton's DNA -- a critical match in the Mountain View investigation that would ultimately lead to his arrest. But the evidence was never processed, Cathcart said, and sat idly for more than two decades before it was finally tested.
"This all goes back to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where another victim was raped by Mr. Overton," Cathcart said. "She submitted a SART kit and that kit was not tested in Albuquerque, it basically sat there from the time of that rape -- which was several years before ours -- until this year."
Things moved fast after the DNA match was discovered in January this year, indicating the suspect was a potential serial rapist. Albuquerque police worked with the Mountain View Police Department to locate Overton in Albuquerque, who was extradited to California and transferred to Santa Clara County jail.
Success in locating Overton and prosecuting him in court hinged on DNA evidence, and Cathcart said it was important that the victim in Mountain View reported the sexual assault right away. The victim also gave a statement to officers at the time, which was preserved and assisted in the case this year. The plea deal also means the victim doesn't have to go through the trauma of testifying in court.
"The victim doesn't have to come to court or relive what happened, which is very important to us," Cathcart said.
Despite the delay in finding Overton, Cathcart said police went "above and beyond" in keeping tabs on the case. The original responding officer, Capt. Jessica Nowaski, stayed in contact with the victim for 16 years, she said, and Det. Matt Atkins was instrumental in the investigating the case this year.
Nowaski said in a statement Wednesday that the department had spent the last 16 years persistently trying new ways to identify and prosecute the suspect in the case, which she said has finally paid off.
"This was a horrendous case of sexual assault; the kind of crime that keeps you up at night," she said. "I am very grateful that we were able to bring some sense of closure to our victim in this case."
Sentencing in the case is scheduled for Nov. 12.