NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A man who came to be known as "The Suitcase Rapist" pleaded guilty to two counts of forcible rape in cases that happened more than decade ago.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro says Michael Lee Jones entered the plea that comes with a 45 year sentence Friday afternoon.
Prosecutors say Jones raped a victim who was visiting New Orleans for Jazz Fest in May of 2003. They say in the predawn hours of May 5, she was looking for a cab near Esplanade and Burgundy. Jones offered her a ride and she accepted. Prosecutors say he drove her to a secluded area. When she tried to run away, he chased her down, tackled and violently assaulted her. Investigators found DNA during the sexual assault exam, but the case went cold.
Prosecutors say Jones raped his second New Orleans victim a month later in June of 2003. The say once again, he met a woman, offered her a ride and then raped her. Once again investigators recovered DNA but the investigation went nowhere.
The case remained unsolved for years.
But, in February of 2005, the defendant raped and severely beat a woman who was staying at the same hotel in Miami, Florida. The comatose victim was found naked on the side of a road. Because of the severity of the beating, her memory of what happened did little to help investigators.
Then in December of 2005, Jones offered a victim a ride home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He raped her twice at her home. Investigators recovered DNA but again, the case went cold.
When Colorado police entered the DNA into a national crime database, it matched the perpetrator in the New Orleans cases.
The cases remained unsolved until a private investigator working for the hotel where the Miami victim had been staying spotted something on surveillance video. He saw a man following the victim when she came back to the hotel at 3:00 a.m. Then the surveillance video showed that same man leave pulling a large heavy suitcase at 5:00 a.m. The investigator eventually followed clues and identified the man as Michael Lee Jones. He denied involvement and even provided a DNA sample.
Based on the new evidence, Florida law enforcement had him arrested and extradited. The case was hampered by the victim's lack of memory. Florida prosecutors allowed Jones to plead guilty to one count of Sexual Battery with a Weapon and one count of Aggravated Battery. He was sentenced to two years in prison. It was this case that earned Jones the name "The Suitcase Rapist."
After the conviction, Florida entered Jones' DNA into the CODIS database. That's when the match was made to the cases in New Orleans and Colorado Springs.
He was convicted in the Colorado case, in part because of testimony by one of the New Orleans victims, and sentenced to 24 years to life.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro says, "Not only was the defendant in this case a serial rapist, but he also was an extremely vicious and violent predator. I hope this conviction provides all of his victims with some small measure of closure."