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Convicted killer faces second murder charge in 1992 case

TAMPA — A convicted killer was accused Wednesday of a second murder that went unsolved for 18 years.

Rocky G. Juarez, 43, faces charges of first-degree murder and attempted sexual battery in connection with the 1992 death of Rachel Guiles, 32, of Tampa. Juarez has been incarcerated since 2000 for the murder of Tina Marie Pitts of Thonotosassa.

Both women were strangled.

"There is certainly the possibility of his involvement in other murders," said Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee. "His MO would suggest that either he is a serial killer or he was a serial killer in the making."

Guiles' body was found July 11, 1992, in a group of trees on the east side of N 15th Street, just north of 131st Avenue. She lived alone in an apartment less than a mile away, Gee said.

The case went unsolved until this year when DNA from the crime scene matched Juarez's DNA in a national data base, Gee said.

Juarez has been serving a 35-year sentence in state prison since 2002, when he was convicted of Pitts' murder. Pitts, 36, was found dead in October 2000 behind a Save N' Pack store at 5014 E Busch Blvd. In that case, authorities matched DNA from the victim's fingernails to Juarez, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

Juarez was not identified as a suspect in Guiles' murder until the DNA hit, Gee said.

He was transported from a state prison in DeSoto County on Wednesday and booked in a Hills­borough County jail. Detectives were waiting to question him about Guiles' murder, Gee said.

Guiles is survived by a brother who lives in North Carolina, Gee said.

"We spoke to her brother and he is very pleased that we solved this case," the sheriff said.

Gee credited a 2008 grant that the Sheriff's Office received from the National Institute of Justice. The grant provided for two investigators to be appointed to examine cold cases on a full-time basis and allowed for more advanced DNA testing.

Investigators were able to extract DNA in 1992 from semen that was found on Guiles' socks and pantyhose. In December 2009, they resubmitted the DNA, which was matched in July to Juarez's DNA profile in the FBI's data base, officials said.

"This hit would not have been possible in 1992," Gee said.

In February 1993, Juarez lived in an apartment at 12709 N 19th St., about a half-mile from where Guiles' body was found, authorities said.

Guiles was last seen the evening of July 2, 1992, when a friend dropped her off at her apartment after the two spent the afternoon together. The friend later told authorities that he met Guiles at the Brass Mug Pub at 1441 E Fletcher Ave. about three weeks earlier. They had made plans to go fishing July 3 and to attend a concert on July 4.

A neighbor reported Guiles missing July 7. A lottery ticket purchased on July 3 was found in the pocket of Guiles' pants, which were found next to her body.

Officials think Juarez also met Guiles at the Brass Mug, which Juarez was known to frequent before the murder.

Juarez previously served about six years in prison for a separate 1993 attempted murder, which occurred in Tampa. He was also charged with a second 1993 sexual battery, but the victim died before Juarez could be tried in the second case, sheriff's officials said.

"I don't think this guy is ever going to see daylight, based on his current sentence," Gee said.

Authorities are trying to determine if Juarez was in the United States legally, Gee said. They believe he entered the country from Mexico through California before 1992 and had lived in the southwestern United States.

Barbara Miller, 64, the mother of Tina Marie Pitts, said she is pleased at the news that her daughter's killer may never have the opportunity to leave prison.

"My family has talked about the possibility that he could have done this to other girls," Miller said. "If they've got evidence, yeah, I'm pleased. I didn't want to have the thought that he might get out again. People like that need to be put behind bars and stay there."

Miller, who moved back to her native Virginia after her daughter's murder, said she raised two of her daughter's four children, who are now 17 and 18.

"My heart goes out to anybody who loses their child because I know what it feels like," she said. "You don't get over stuff like that."

Times researchers Caryn Baird and Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Dan Sullivan can be reached at (813) 226-3321 or dsullivan@sptimes.com.

Convicted killer faces second murder charge in 1992 case 09/08/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 12:00am]

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