DNA links suspect to 1994 rape of Albuquerque woman

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – In November 1994, an Albuquerque woman went for her daily run in the bosque.

That’s when police said 56-year-old Gilbert Contreras raped her on the trail, but they didn’t make that connection until earlier this month, nearly 28 years since the attack – a development that came almost a decade after that woman died.

“So she can’t, she can’t testify under oath and describe what occurred to her, but that doesn’t make a conviction impossible. It just creates a higher hurdle,” said UNM Law Professor Josh Kastenberg.

After the initial police report and rape kit, the woman’s case went cold. But earlier this year they got a DNA hit in a national database leading them to Contreras.

They said a follow-up DNA sample from him matched the one in the woman’s rape kit, however her death presents new obstacles in seeing the case through.

“The concern that every prosecutor would have in a case like this, is that as evidence gets old, it’s more easily attacked by the defense counsel through cross-examination,” said Kastenberg.

“If you think about other kinds of sexual assault cases where defendants will say, well, the victim gave me permission to do it, or we agreed on it. And the victim is not allowed to testify that can be devastating to a prosecutor’s case,” said Kastenberg.

He said he’s seen plenty of cases with these circumstances throughout his law career, and while the victim is no longer here he said the goal goes beyond justice.

It’s about preventing future attacks, too. 

“As a prosecutor, you have to prosecute cases like this, this isn’t, you know, a minor petty crime of shoplifting or an allegation, this is one of the most dehumanizing crimes that we have in the books,” said Kastenberg.

Looking at Contreras’ criminal history, he was convicted in 2005, more than a decade after the Albuquerque attack, for statutory rape in Nevada.

Officers said when they questioned him about the Albuquerque attack a few months ago, he said he didn’t do it because he was in prison at that time. They said court records indicate that’s not true. 

A representative for APD said while not having a living victim in this case is challenging, there is evidence that will allow this to move forward.