DNA hit leads to arrest in Daytona gang rape of teen 20 years ago
(Daytona Beach News Journal/published March 23, 2017)
By Frank Fernandez
DELAND — Two decades after the gang rape of a 14-year-old girl left alone in some Volusia County woods, her assailants remained unidentified.
On Tuesday, sheriff's investigators said a DNA hit has led to one of the men, Robert Sheridan Haar, a 42-year-old ex-convict from Portage, Wisconsin.
Haar is one of three men who raped the girl, said Sheriff's Office Lt. Pat Thoman. But investigators don't have sufficient evidence yet to charge the other two.
The teenage girl told investigators at the time that she had been mudding with some friends on Oct. 16 and 17, 1997, at Mud Lake in the area of Clyde Morris and LPGA boulevards in Daytona Beach.
She was riding with some friends in the woods when their vehicle became disabled. They argued and she was left stranded. Then the girl started walking to find her way out. But that's when she encountered the three men.
They told the teen during the attack that she would be killed if she resisted or screamed, according to Haar's charging affidavit.
The arrest warrant charging Haar with sexual battery with deadly weapon/force was signed on March 17. The felony is punishable by life in prison and prosecution can begin at any time, according to the State Attorney's Office.
Haar, whose previous crimes include a sex offense on a teenager, is being held in the Columbia (Wisconsin) County Jail, about 40 miles north of Madison. He is awaiting extradition to Volusia County.
Haar's DNA was entered last year into a national database after he was arrested in a Wisconsin case which was not a sexual offense, investigators said. Also last year, the Volusia County Sheriff's Office submitted the DNA from the 1997 rape case to a private lab for testing when then-sheriff Ben Johnson asked for a review of all cases in which DNA had not been sent to a lab.
That led to the match with Haar.
Since then, additional DNA from the case has been sent to the lab for testing and investigators have identified a second profile, although they are not sure whose it is. Investigators are hoping that additional testing will link the DNA to one of the two other men.
Lt. Thoman said the DNA sample in the case had not been submitted earlier due to an oversight by an investigator who retired about five years ago. But, Thoman said, it would not have made a difference since Haar's DNA was not in the database until last year.
Florida began collecting DNA samples in 2011 from people arrested on certain felony charges, according to state statutes. Then the state periodically expanded the felonies for which DNA would be collected.
Haar has a Florida prison history, state records show. In 2001, he spent about eight months in prison on Volusia County drug convictions. He served a year and a day in the mid 1990s for a 1991 car theft conviction out of Hillsborough County.
Haar also has a criminal history in Wisconsin. On Nov. 2, 2016, Haar was found guilty after pleading no contest to substantial battery-intend bodily harm and battery. Haar was placed on probation and ordered to provide a DNA sample. That's what led to the match.
Haar's sex crime conviction came in 2011 when he pleaded no contest to sex with a child age 16 or older. He was adjudicated guilty, according to Wisconsin online court records. He received probation and was ordered to pay monthly child support. There is no mention of a DNA sample on computer court records for that case.
Thoman said the woman from the 1997 Florida case, now in her 30s and who still lives locally, was willing to prosecute when she was told of the match.
"Obviously, she was very emotional," Thoman said. "She recalled the incident very well and she was willing to pursue the case."
Administrative offices: West Volusia 386-736-5961 Daytona Beach 386-254-4689 New Smyrna Beach 386-423-3352
Non-emergency dispatch numbers: DeLand 386-943-8276 Daytona Beach 386-239-8276 New Smyrna Beach 386-409-8276 Osteen 407-323-0151