TAMPA — Mannot Lusca had just about finished a cocaine sentence at a federal penitentiary in California last year when a Hillsborough sheriff's detective came to see him.
Detective Charles Boswell said he was investigating an 8-year-old rape case back in Tampa, Lusca's former home. "If I were to find someone's DNA," Boswell asked, "that would mean he committed this crime, correct?"
The officer never said he had DNA. He was just asking, hypothetically.
But within minutes, Lusca was spilling the whole story on the detective's recorder. "I was wrong," Lusca said. "I pray she'll forgive me for what I did."
Lusca, now 30, was soon charged with the 2003 rape of a 20-year-old woman in her townhome while her baby slept upstairs — and four other rapes of teenage girls from 2002 to 2004.
He's on trial for only the townhome rape this week. On Tuesday, a jury heard his confession and heard his victim describe how he held a fake gun to her head, forced her to perform oral sex and then raped her on her staircase.
The victim said she begged him not to hurt her 2-year-old son, asleep upstairs, and persuaded him to use a condom. She said he took the $50 bill her grandmother had given her for a birthday present as well as $11 from her purse.
"He gave me back $1," she said.
After a few months, the victim was told the Sheriff's Office hadn't solved the crime and the investigation was officially inactive.
But in 2010, Boswell took on the cold case. He had no fingerprints. But he had a sample of semen.
He began reinterviewing "hundreds" of possible suspects who had lived near the victim in the University area. Lusca's name came up, but as yet Boswell had no DNA match.
When the detective visited Lusca in prison, Lusca first denied even being in Tampa at the time of the crime. But when Boswell hinted of DNA proof, Lusca abruptly admitted accosting the woman as she carried laundry from her car.
After the confession, Boswell said Lusca then gave a saliva sample, which led to the DNA match.
The Sheriff's Office later announced that Lusca's DNA had been matched in four other sexual assaults. The victims were teenage girls dragged off the street while walking in the University area. No trial dates have been set for those offenses.
On Tuesday, when the 2003 victim encountered Lusca in court, she said he looked different. She said he wore dreadlocks and a beard when he attacked her. In court, he was clean-shaven. But she said he was the rapist. She remembered his "tight eyes."
Lusca's attorney, J. Kenneth Littman, challenged the victim's memory after nine years. He also challenged the confession, noting that Lusca asked Boswell whether he should get a lawyer. The detective said it was up to Lusca, who had already agreed to speak without one. Boswell offered to stop the interrogation, but Lusca said he was willing to continue. The question never came up again.
The trial before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe is expected to conclude Thursday.
John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or [email protected]