After 19 years, blood tests uncovered, cast doubt on rape conviction
October 12, 2001 By S.K. BARDWELL Houston Chronicle
Ron Eitel, in prison on a rape conviction, has hope for the first time in 19 years.
Eitel says he knew he was innocent when he pleaded guilty to being the Hayes Road Rapist in 1982. But his efforts to prove that were stymied in part by his own lawyer, who told him blood tests showed the evidence against him was overwhelming.
Eitel says he never saw the blood tests. When he asked for them, no one at the Harris County District Attorney's Office could find them for 18 years, until one in a succession of lawyers and private investigators that Eitel's father hired found them in the police department's property room.
But the blood tests -- DNA tests were not conducted in the early 1980s -- show that the semen found in five of the 12 victims had a different blood type, and another was inconclusive. In the remaining six cases, police collected no medical evidence from the victims.
Eitel now has a new lawyer who is preparing the paperwork to start DNA testing on any of the physical evidence that remains in the hopes of gaining his freedom.
Even if he is successful, it won't cure what Eitel says is the root of his trouble: "Society thinks it's embracing an honest and ethical judicial system," he said. "In reality, they are embracing a monster."
Eitel's nightmare began with his arrest in May 1982. Twelve women, several of whom lived at an apartment complex on Hayes Road in southwest Houston, were raped at knifepoint between September 1981 and May 1982.
A resident of the complex told police he had seen Eitel wandering around the complex after an attack on May 5. Eitel, who had lived at the complex a year before, said he had been drinking with friends there and was looking for his car.
Eitel was arrested two weeks later. The day after his arrest, he was placed in a lineup viewed together by all 12 victims, a police tactic to which defense lawyers routinely object. Eleven of them positively identified Eitel as their attacker. A 12th woman made a tentative identification of Eitel, who had no attorney at the time of the lineup.
Eitel insisted through his
attorney, James R. Moriarty, that his blood be compared to the semen drawn
from the rape victims.
Eitel was stunned when Moriarty
told him that the results in nearly all the rapes showed, "I'm the one
that did it," Eitel said.
Moriarty also said he does not remember handwritten notes that are part of the court record. Under one victim's name is written, "Blood Type `A' for sem. fluids." Under the name of another victim appears the notation: "Type `A' only," along with, "Poss. suspect not involved," and "Very prob. not Eitel."
Eitel has Type O blood.
In 1987, when Eitel was appealing the conviction on his own, Moriarty said in an affidavit:
"The evidence was overwhelming. ... I explained (to Eitel) that I expected a trial to give him no chance of winning.
"The only possibility I thought might exist for avoiding a string of life sentences was to plead guilty to several of the counts and seek mercy."
Eitel agreed to plead guilty in four of the cases because he thought he could get probation and get out of jail, where he had already been for five months.
When it was discovered that would not be an option, Howard Eitel asked Moriarty to remove himself from the case and to ask the court to appoint another lawyer. Meanwhile, Ron Eitel wrote state District Judge Charles Hearn, asking to withdraw his guilty pleas and allow him a trial by jury with a new lawyer.
After Ron Eitel and Moriarty exchanged heated words in the courtroom, the judge ended the argument and insisted they proceed together.
Eitel was given two 20-year prison terms and two 60-year prison terms. The terms were "stacked," meaning he was sentenced to a total of 160 years.
"On its face, to me, it seemed like a really strong case," said Chuck Hinton, the prosecutor in the case.
Now in private practice, Hinton said he could not remember all the details of Eitel's case but, "I don't remember anybody strong-arming the guy."
Eitel and his father began trying to obtain the test results from the files of the district attorney's office, where a succession of lawyers and private investigators hired by Howard Eitel were told the documents were lost.
Last year, one of Howard
Eitel's attorneys tracked the documents down to the Houston Police Department
But Holmes added that what the district attorney's office would have in its files would be "copies of someone else's work product," and said the best place to go for test results is the testing agency.
Howard Eitel said since neither he nor his son ever saw copies of the test results, they had no way of knowing where the testing had been done.
The tests, according to copies reviewed by the Chronicle, show Ron Eitel is a Type O secretor, meaning his blood is Type O and secretes certain chemicals that set it apart from other Type O blood.
No medical evidence was collected in four of the 12 cases of the Hayes Road Rapist. No semen was present in two other cases.
Of the remaining six, three semen samples came from a nonsecretor. Two came from a Type A secretor and the last turned up semen from two different blood types, rendering the test inconclusive.
"Presence of semen not belonging to a rapist does not exclude him" as a suspect, Moriarty said. He said it simply shows there was consensual sex before the rape, and the rapist left no semen.
"Six times?" Eitel asked of the six victims on whom semen was found. "That's kind of a coincidence, isn't it?"
"As a defense attorney, I would have used the fact that the semen didn't match," Hinton said.
Police and prosecutor's records obtained by Eitel over the years have shown other problems with the case.
Several suspects had been identified in one or more of the cases before Eitel was arrested. Most of them were not picked out of physical or photographic lineups by victims, but none of them was ever viewed by all the victims together, as Eitel was.
In the first of the Hayes Road Rapist cases in September 1981, two suspects were developed, but the victim didn't identify either one in separate lineups. Three months later, though, the victim called investigators to confess that she had recognized her rapist in the last lineup. It was a man police had arrested near her apartment for public intoxication.
The woman, who told police she had been too frightened to identify her attacker at the physical lineup, positively identified the same man in a photographic lineup in January 1982. Prosecutors would not charge the man because of the woman's initial failure to identify him, but police were evidently convinced her identification of the suspect was concrete -- her case was marked "Cleared by investigation" on Jan. 18, 1982.
When Eitel was arrested five
months later, police asked the same woman to view the lineup, and she positively
"I'm a hairy ape," he acknowledges, pulling his shirt collar back to expose thick, dark hair that curls up his throat. "My back, my arms, my legs," Eitel said. "I have a lot of hair."
Houston lawyer Jerald Graber is preparing a writ of habeus corpus on Ron Eitel's behalf. He has spoken to the district attorney's office and set in motion the process of retrieving any of the physical evidence that remains in the cases for DNA testing.
"In two of the cases in which
he pleaded, there was no (medical) evidence, so that raises some concerns,"
Eitel said he is just glad someone is finally listening to him: "Once you get in (prison), it's even harder to get anyone to listen to you," he said.