On Heels of Brooklyn Arrest, A Look at How to Catch an Attacker

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A man was arrested early Wednesday in a groping attack on a woman in Brooklyn  one of a series of sexual attacks that have occurred in the area, but it remained unclear whether area residents would be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

Adolfo Martinez, 26, from Sunset Park, was charged with sexual abuse and forcible touching, the police said. On Monday evening, he groped an 18-year-old woman in near a Sunset Park subway stop and then ran away.

Police originally said that attack, the 13th to take place since March in the areas of Sunset Park, Park Slope, Greenwood Heights, Windsor Terrace and Bay Ridge, was not a part of the pattern. But on Wednesday other women who were assaulted viewed Martinez in a lineup, and the police said they were investigating whether the attack was related to any of the other 12.

"The lineup is the only way, absent some other sort of other evidence, like forensic evidence," said James Cohen, professor of law at Fordham University. "That’s the only way they’ll be able to connect this particular person to the other attacks, assuming he was involved."

In the string of attacks, most women were groped, and one was raped in June in Sunset Park. Last week, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said it was likely more than one attacker was assaulting women. The police have released several different sketches of attackers.

"It’s hard to know with sketches whether that means there’s three different people," said Lisa Friel, former head of the sex crimes unit in Manhattan’s District Attorney’s Office. "Or are we talking about sketches being different because of people’s ability to articulate and describe who they saw."

Friel and other experts said the lack of forensic evidence, the fact that attacks were spread out across a few neighborhoods and happened mostly during the night when it was harder for victims to get a good look at the perpetrator, as well as the potential of multiple attackers made apprehending the responsible individual or individuals more difficult, even though police have added patrols and investigators in the area.

(Photo: A wanted poster on Fifth Avenue and 18th Street in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.Beth Fertig/WNYC)

Next to geographical area and the perpetrator’s appearance, law enforcement looks into a number of factors when establishing a pattern, such as the way the attacker approaches his victims and what he does to them — his modus operandi, the time of day attacks occur, as well as the nature of the victims — their age, ethnic background and physical appearance.

In Brooklyn, most attacks occurred during the night, near subway stops, while the victims walked alone. Most were petite and wearing skirts or dresses.

When it comes down to tracking down the perpetrator, the "best evidence," is DNA evidence, said Joseph Pollini, former New York Police Department detective and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

"Witness identification tends to be not as good, of course, as things like DNA, because the mind tends to play tricks on the people," he said. "They tend to be stressed at times. And as time goes on they change the way they see things."

But a conviction for Martinez, Friel said, for charges he is already facing or any other, will largely depend on the women who identify him in a lineup.

"The ability to get a conviction is gonna have a lot to do with them describing their ability to have seen him and what kinds of good look they got at him and how sure they are that they have the right guy," she said.

As of Wednesday night, Martinez had not been connected to any of the other attacks.