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DNA, fingerprints, gun and bizarre Facebook tirade lead to Florida man suspected of sex assault 20 years ago

File photo.
File photo.

TAMPA, Fla. – DNA, fingerprints, a silver gun and a bizarre Facebook tirade led them to a man suspected of sexually attacking a woman nearly 20 years ago, Tampa police said.

Antonio Rivers, who was 19 at the time of the attack, was charged Tuesday with sexual battery with a deadly weapon and armed burglary of a dwelling, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

The woman was attacked Dec. 17, 2000, when she returned to the house she shared with her sister and encountered a masked man who was already inside her home, investigators said. She told police he pointed a silver pistol at her.

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A sexual assault forensic exam was conducted, which included a sample of the attacker’s DNA. But no match was found in the DNA database, investigators said.

Almost six months later, a Tampa police officer tried to pull over Rivers for something else. As he ran from police, he tossed a a silver Bryco Jennings 9mm semi-automatic pistol, according to police. He was eventually caught and the gun was recovered.

The newspaper reported Rivers told investigators he'd had the gun for about two years.

Years went by. Then, in January, a latent fingerprint specialist re-analyzed two right palm prints taken from the crime scene in 2000. They matched Rivers’ jail booking records, 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. Neither said they knew Rivers. But the woman told them about 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 message to police, who said the account appeared to belong to the same Rivers under investigation, the newspaper reported. Police did not offer details on the message.

Police obtained a search warrant that allowed them to take a DNA sample from Rivers, now 39, on July 2. They also questioned him about the attack in 2000. Rivers “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,” police said.

But the DNA lab report that came back Sept. 3 showed Rivers’ DNA matched the sample taken after the attack, and he was arrested.

He remained in the Hillsborough County Jail on Friday morning. Bond was set at $300,000. An attorney for Rivers wasn’t listed on jail records.