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Suspect linked to second assault

A prosecutor on Thursday officially linked rape suspect Timothy Conley to a second sexual assault.

Conley already is accused in the June 15 abduction and rape of a woman who was standing outside the Crystal River Mall.

Now Assistant State Attorney Liz Osmond has accused Conley in a similar rape, which occurred May 14. She said her case is based on physical evidence and the victim's ability to identify Conley as her attacker.

Also helpful are recently completed laboratory tests, which indicate that deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, extracted from semen on the girl's underwear matches DNA examined in Conley's blood samples.

Conley, 23, of Crystal River is in the Citrus County jail. His new charges include two counts of sexual battery involving threatened present use of force and one count of kidnapping.

If convicted on all counts, Conley could face life in prison.

Word of the new charges brought both relief and disgust to families of the two young rape victims.

The victim in the May case, a 16-year-old Crystal River girl, had provided the Citrus County Sheriff's Office with a detailed description of her attacker and the vehicle he was driving _ a pickup truck from a cable television company. The truck had a Tasmanian Devil air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror.

Deputies quickly identified Conley as a prime suspect. However, for reasons still unclear, sheriff's Investigator Mary Kay Lucas did not arrest or even question Conley.

A month later, Crystal River police arrested him in connection with the mall rape; a day later, the victim in the May rape identified him as her attacker.

"I don't believe it (the case) was handled at all," said the mother of the May rape victim, whose name is withheld to protect her daughter's privacy.

"I don't believe it was taken seriously. Once it was in her (Lucas') hands, she didn't handle it. She didn't follow the leads," the woman said.

The second victim, an 18-year-old Homosassa Springs woman, says she still can't understand why Conley wasn't arrested in May. If he had been, she feels she would not have been attacked.

"He should have never been on the streets after that," said the woman's mother. Again, the names are withheld to protect the victim's identity.

The Sheriff's Office still won't answers questions about how investigators handled the May rape. The Times raised several questions in a December story about the case; the victims in both rapes have demanded answers, as well.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Gail Tierney said this week that her agency cannot comment on the case until it clears through the court system.

In the May case, the girl reported that she was walking along State Road 44 about 4:30 p.m. when a man driving a pickup truck belonging to a cable TV operator stopped and offered her a ride, according to sheriff's reports.

She accepted. But instead of heading toward her home, the man drove to a deserted area, grabbed a hammer and threatened to kill the girl if she didn't do as he said.

After removing her clothes, he pulled down his pants. He asked her age and whether she had ever had sex before. After attempting to rape the girl, he used her underwear to clean himself.

One of Conley's co-workers at P & M Communications told a deputy that Conley fit the attacker's description. Deputies observed Conley's work truck, which fit the girl's description right down to the Tasmanian Devil air freshener, records show.

The girl identified the truck as the one her attacker had driven.

Lucas did not question Conley or present a photo lineup that included his picture, records show. Even the victim's mother _ who knew that deputies suspected a man named "Tim" _ asked when Lucas would show her daughter "Tim's" picture.

He was not arrested.

On June 15, Crystal River police say Conley abducted the woman from outside the mall, drove her to a deserted area and raped her. The attacker positioned the second girl in a similar manner to the first and again, he asked about his victim's age and sexual history and then apologized after the attack.

After Conley was arrested for the June rape, Lucas included his picture in a "photo lineup" that she showed to the victim in the May case. That girl immediately identified Conley as the attacker.

At that point, prosecutors were poised to file felony charges for both the May and June attacks. They held off on the May case, though, deciding to see whether the DNA would come back with a match.

They did. In a document released Thursday, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement estimated the likelihood that someone other than Conley could match the DNA profile was 1 in 81.

"If you were just to go out on the street and grab a sexually mature male at random . . . one out of 81 would also produce the same pattern," said Dr. Martin Tracey, a biology professor from Florida International University who has studied DNA fingerprinting.

Prosecutors usually like to see better odds when they rely on DNA. In this case, however, only one of five DNA samples were suitable for testing.

Tracey, a DNA expert who has testified in a Citrus courtroom before, said the odds likely would be much more favorable if technicians had been able to examine further samples.