The Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office announced on July 3, 2014 the arrest of a man suspected in a violent rape that took place nearly 10 years ago. The arrest was the result of a DNA hit in a California Department of Justice (DOJ) lab. According to the sheriff's office, DOJ criminalists notified investigators of the hit on June 18, 2014. The DNA hit was the result of a DNA sample collected from Salvador Ceja-Rocha, 46, when he was arrested May 5, 2014 as a suspect in an unrelated sex assault case .
"This man walked the streets a free man for 10 years after allegedly knocking a 19-year-old, young woman down an embankment, as she was walking. He's accused of sexually assaulting her and strangling her. Eventually, through her own will to survive, she crawled back up that embankment in search of help," said California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) President Alan Barcelona. CSLEA represents DOJ criminalists. "This suspect's arrest is the direct result of law enforcement partners, including DOJ criminalists, working together to solve vicious crimes and lock up those who commit them. Without DOJ criminalists' expertise, this case would not have moved forward"
The 2004 case happened during the early morning hours on July 31. The suspect was not identified but biological evidence collected during the sexual assault exam resulted in an identifiable DNA profile, which was loaded into an unsolved crime database maintained by the California DOJ. That database is designed to check DNA from unsolved crimes against samples from known offenders. Nearly ten years passed without a match.
Then, on May 5, 2014, sheriff’s detectives arrested Rocha for an unrelated sexual assault case that occurred on April 20, 2014. In that case, Rocha, working as a taxi cab driver, picked up an intoxicated woman in Capitola and drove her to a remote section of Aptos Creek Road where he attempted to rape her. The woman escaped and ran to nearby neighbors for help. During the course of the investigation, detectives identified Rocha as the suspected and arrested him. Based on that arrest, a DNA sample from Rocha was taken as part of a routine collection program for qualifying offenders. It was that sample that, once submitted to the unsolved crime database, led to the hit on Rocha for the 2004 unsolved rape case.
Rocha has been in custody since his arrest on May 5, 2014. An updated DNA sample obtained from Rocha by detectives confirmed the hit and Rocha has been arrested for the 2004 rape.
“This is another example of ‘you can run but you can’t hide,’" said John Miller, president of the Association of Criminalists for the California Department of Justice (AC-DOJ) an affiliate of CSLEA. "Had Rocha been in the data base prior to the attack on the young woman in 2004, he would have been captured a lot sooner. But the ultimate lesson is, sooner or later, you’re going to pop up in either our DNA database or fingerprint database. It’s a stark illustration of just how valuable these databases are to our safety. The criminalists and latent print examiners at DOJ are an irreplaceable link in the chain of investigation that brings heinous criminals like this to justice.”
Detectives are now searching local records for similar unsolved crimes and have alerted other law enforcement agencies to determine if there may be additional crimes Rocha is responsible for in the region.