DNA from a female relative of the suspect accused of kidnapping and raping a 6-year-old girl in Santa Ana helped lead to an arrest and charges in the case, Orange County authorities announced Monday.
Francisco Javier Lopez, 45, of Montebello, is accused of kidnapping the victim in the 1400 block of South Townsend Street on July 15, 2012, according to the Santa Ana Police Department.
He allegedly forced the child into a Honda Civic in broad daylight, then took her to a nearby parking lot where she was “brutally” sexually assaulted, Santa Ana Police Chief David Valentin said at a news conference Tuesday morning.
After, the suspect drove the girl back to the 1400 block of South Townsend Street and essentially dumped her out of the car, according to Valentin.
Despite an exhaustive investigation at the time, police developed limited leads in the case.
Authorities were eventually able to identify Lopez as the suspect in the case, but it took years and the conviction of the suspect’s close female family member in order to finally come up with a match, officials said.
First, police submitted DNA samples from the crime scene to the Combined DNA Index System, also known as CODIS, Valentin said. That provided no hits.
On Aug. 8, 2012, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department crime lab submitted its first request to the California Department of Justice for a familial DNA analysis. But that too initially led nowhere.
Detectives submitted new DNA analysis requests each year.
It was ultimately an unrelated case prosecuted by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office that led to the major break in the case.
In 2014, the suspect’s close female family member pleaded guilty to an unspecified charge, according to DA Todd Spitzer. He declined to identify the woman or provide additional information about her conviction.
The woman's DNA samples were submitted to the local and state DNA databases at the time of her plea in 2014, Spitzer said at the news conference.
However, California did not have the ability to analyze female familial DNA samples until 2018.
“So, her sample – our convicted person from Orange County, a woman – sat in the state system for four years until the science at the state level caught up,” Spitzer said.
There was finally a hit in 2018 when detectives again submitted the sample, according to the district attorney.
Santa Ana police learned of the match and began surveilling Lopez.
Because the crime scene sample was submitted as an unknown, investigators had to collect actual DNA samples from Lopez. They collected those based on items Lopez discarded, and then that evidence was submitted to the sheriff’s crime lab for analysis.
In June 2019, a positive match emerged, according to Valentin.
That led to Lopez’s arrest on Oct. 4, 2019. He was booked into jail where he is being held without bail.
The police chief said the investigation was significant in that it was the first time in Orange County history where they had a female DNA marker on a match that resulted in an arrest, and only the second that’s happened in the state.
Lopez has been charged with 12 felony counts, including three counts of sexual penetration of a child under 11 years old and five counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child, according to a Santa Ana Police Department news release.
He is also charged with one count each of kidnapping to commit a sexual offense, oral copulation of a child under the age 11, sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 11 and a felony count of dissuading a witness, the release stated.
Additionally, he faces four sentencing enhancements of aggravated kidnapping and causing bodily injury.
The maximum punishment in the case is life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to police.