LEESBURG, Va. (AP) — A Connecticut man who police believe is responsible for a series of sexual assaults along the East Coast pleaded guilty Thursday to a 2001 rape and abduction in Virginia, marking the first conviction in the attacks spanning more than a decade.
Aaron Thomas of New Haven faces two potential life sentences after he entered the guilty pleas in Loudoun County Circuit Court to one count of rape and one of abduction with intent to defile.
Thomas had been scheduled to enter a guilty plea earlier this month in Prince William County for raping two teenage trick-or-treaters on Halloween 2009, but the deal fell through after Thomas told a judge he didn't know what he was doing.
Thursday's hearing faced road bumps of its own, when a teary, shackled Thomas cried out "I don't know what's going on here and I don't know what I'm doing" in response to a judge's question about the plea. But he ultimately accepted responsibility, pleading guilty in a barely audible voice. A third, lesser count was dropped as part of the plea deal.
Thomas underwent a mental health evaluation after being transferred to Virginia to face charges. A court-appointed evaluator concluded he was faking symptoms of insanity.
Part of the evidence against Thomas included a letter of apology he wrote shortly after his arrest last year to the woman he raped in Leesburg, threatening her with a screwdriver.
In the letter, written after he was interviewed by detectives, Thomas wrote "I did not want to hurt you I just have a bad emotional sex problem that I could not control (sic)." He concluded, "Sorry 4 hurting you emtionaley (sic) because I have problems with my self."
Thursday's guilty plea was the first conviction in any of the cases linked to the man police dubbed the East Coast Rapist. He is scheduled for a second plea hearing Friday in Prince William County.
Loudoun County Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Plowman said he was glad that the guilty plea would spare the victim from having to testify at a trial. She will be able to testify at Thomas' sentencing about the effect the crime has had on her life.
Plowman declined to say Thursday whether he will seek a life sentence.
Thomas was arrested in Connecticut in March 2011 after a multi-state law enforcement effort to catch a man believed responsible for rapes and other attacks on 17 women since 1997 in Maryland, Virginia, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
The cases were linked by DNA and other evidence.