Man Arrested After DNA Links Him to 20-Year-Old Rape Case

Decades after a woman was raped inside her own home, Ohio police arrested a man they believe to be the culprit because a recent DNA match tied him to a 1999 rape kit.

Using DNA to solve crimes is a relatively new concept and police departments have started using genetic testing to solve cold cases. The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office partnered with Gene by Gene, a DNA-based ancestry and genealogy company, to try to find matches to their 20 "Most Wanted" profiles, which led to the arrest of 50-year-old Bart Mercurio for a 20-year-old rape.

"I am extremely proud of the dedicated work by all involved that led to this arrest," Prosecutor Michael O'Malley said in a statement. "Although time may have passed, justice will not. It has been a long 22 years for this victim, but we hope today's news will bring her some comfort in knowing this individual is finally behind bars."

Mercurio is the first arrest as a result of the partnership with Gene by Gene and is accused of breaking into a 33-year-old woman's home in Cleveland and raping her after she returned from a walk. During the assault, Mercurio allegedly struck her multiple times until she lost consciousness and fled the scene before he could be apprehended.

The woman, according to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office, called the police after the attack and was transported to the hospital, where she underwent a sexual assault kit. The kit was never submitted and in 2013, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) tested it but found no matches in the FBI's national DNA database.

Official's gave the suspect's profile the name "John Doe #133" and charged the person with one count of rape, kidnapping and aggravated burglary. In Ohio, a person can't be prosecuted for rape or sexual battery if 25 years have passed since the alleged crime was committed but by charging "John Doe #133," prosecutors sought to ensure the statute of limitations wouldn't run out.

Having received grants from the Department of Justice in 2019 and 2020, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office launched the Genetic Operations Linking DNA (G.O.L.D.) Unit and partnered with Gene By Gene. DNA analysts and investigative genetic genealogists connected Mercurio to the "John Doe #133" profile and confirmed with BCI his DNA matched the victim's rape kit.

bart mercurio rape cuyahoga county
The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office partnered with Gene by Gene, a DNA-based ancestry and genealogy company, to match Bart Mercurio's DNA. Mercurio, 50, was arrested on Friday after his DNA was linked to a 1999 rape case. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office

On Friday, investigators, U.S. Marshals and the Elyria Police Department arrested Mercurio at his home and he's set to be arraigned on July 13.

One of the most famous cases to be solved using DNA registries is the case of the "Golden State Killer." Joseph DeAngelo, who pleaded guilty to many of the crimes attributed to the serial killer known as the Golden State Killer, evaded capture for decades. It wasn't until about 30 years after his last crime was believed to have been committed that investigators used GEDmatch, an open-source genealogy database, to link DeAngelo to the crimes.

Since investigators were able to nab the Golden State Killer by using DNA technology, the method has been deployed across the country. In June, the Cascade County Sheriff's Office announced it used the technology to solve a 65-year-old cold case that involved the murder of two Montana teens. Det. Sgt. Jon Kadner believes it's the oldest case to be solved using forensic genealogy.

The method is becoming more popular, but it's still considered a rare tool and some have raised concerns about whether it infringes on people's privacy. However, some see the benefits outweighing the potential unintended privacy infringements.

"In the interest of public safety, don't you want to make it easy for people to be caught?" Colleen Fitzpatrick, co-founder of the DNA Doe Project, which helps find suspects, told NBC News. "Police really want to do their job. They're not after you. They just want to make you safe."

The Cuyahoga County's 20 "Most Wanted" profiles date back to rapes that occurred in 1993 and involve three suspected serial rapists. One suspect, who is wanted in connection with attacks on four victims sexually assaulted a 70-year-old victim and threw the victim off a dock.

"Though many years have passed, hope remained for this victim that the perpetrator would be brought to justice—his day of judicial reckoning is finally here," Attorney General Dave Yost said of Mercurio. "I look forward to many future successes brought forth from this continued partnership with BCI and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office."