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Tampa man faces sexual battery charge two decades after attack, police say

A silver gun. A palm print. DNA evidence. All of that added up over the years and helped solve a 2000 sexual battery, according to Tampa police.

TAMPA — It has been nearly 20 years since a woman said an intruder broke into her home and sexually battered her at gunpoint. Now Tampa police say they’ve solved the case thanks to evidence assembled years after the attack.

Antonio Rivers, now 39, was arrested Tuesday on charges of sexual battery with a deadly weapon and armed burglary of a dwelling, according to Tampa police. The woman’s name was not released by police because of the nature of the allegations.

The attack took place on Dec. 17, 2000. The woman said she returned to the E Mohawk Avenue home she shared with her sister when she encountered an intruder already inside the Seminole Heights home. She said a mask covered his face up to his eyes and he was armed with a silver pistol.

He pointed the gun at her, ordered her to come inside and close the door. Then he sexually battered her, police said, and left. A sexual assault forensic exam was conducted and a sample of her attacker’s DNA was taken, but police said no match was found in the database then.

The next development took place six months later, on July 7, 2001. A Tampa police officer tried to pull over Rivers. He ran away, police said, and while doing so threw away a silver Bryco Jennings 9mm semi-automatic pistol. River was arrested and the gun recovered. Police said Rivers, who was then 19, told them he had the silver gun for about two years.

Then in January, a latent fingerprint specialist re-analyzed two right palm prints taken from the crime scene after the 2000 sexual assault. They matched Rivers' jail booking records, police said, and they had also learned from his 2001 arrest that he carried a silver pistol during the time of the sexual assault.

Detectives spoke to the woman and her sister again this year. Neither knew Rivers. But the woman described a strange Facebook message she received in 2014: She said an Antonio Rivers "sent her a profane tirade that made no sense to her at the time,” police said. She forwarded the messages to police, who said the account appeared to belong to the same Rivers under investigation.

Rivers still lived in Tampa, so detectives obtained a search warrant that allowed them to take a DNA sample on July 2.

They also questioned Rivers about the 2000 sexual battery. Police said he “denied ever being at the crime scene, denied knowing or recognizing the victim, and stated his DNA, prints, or hairs should not be found at the crime scene.”

The DNA lab report came back on Sept. 3, police said, and showed that Rivers' DNA matched the sample taken from the 2000 sexual assault. Rivers was being held in the Hillsborough County jail Thursday in lieu of $300,000 bail.

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