Federal grant makes it possible to make arrest in cold case

TUCSON – (KVOA) – A rape case that went unsolved for nearly 20 years may just have been solved thanks to a federal grant that allowed detectives to submit untested rape kits.

Our Digging Deeper Team uncovered court documents that showed that the submission of an untested rape kit has put one man behind bars.

A search warrant and a 13-count indictment named 53-year old Ernest Alonzo Rodarte as a suspect in the case.

Det. Robin Crehan of Pima County Sheriff’s Department said two women were sexually assaulted in connection to the case. She said according to the investigation, in August 2004, a man came to do the victim’s house and knocked on the door. That was when one of the women opened it.

“This man pushed his way into the house and sexually assaulted two women who were in the house and then escaped,” Crehan said.

Ernest Alonzo Rodarte was eventually arrested. He now sits in the Pima County Jail on a $250,000 bond. He was just indicted by the Grand Jury on more than a dozen charges.

According to the search warrant, the detective was asking the judge for Rodarte’s DNA in the form of buccal cell swabs.

“Until we got this new information, we did not have any leads to follow or speak of to know who this individual was,” Crehan said.

PCSD received information on Nov. 14, 2019 from the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

The lab identified a DNA profile match to a CODIS profile of Ernest Alonzo Rodarte. CODIS is the combined DNA index system the FBI has.

“An unknown perpetrator commits a crime, but they leave behind a DNA profile,” Crehan said. “That’s placed in the database in the hopes that it may match to another profile that’s been put in there under the person’s name.”

The rape kit untested since 2004 was tested thanks to a $2 million grant from the Department of Justice in 2019.

SAKI, the Sexual Assault Kit, Initiative has since made it possible for PCSD to test over 200 rape kits. Half of those have had been linked in CODIS.

They are currently working on over 20 active cases.  

“We have a man in custody because of this grant,” Sheriff Chris Nanos said.

Crehan said the victims were surprised when they were told they had identified and arrested a suspect. She added this grant lets the victims know they are not forgotten and the detectives have not given up on their case.

The 53-year-old is expected in court on March 24.