April 3, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Fugitive rapist's arrest hits many nerves

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com

If this were an episode of "Law & Order," it would all be over by now.

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Gary Irving, convicted rapist, leaves the Cumberland County Court House on Monday, April 1 to be transported to Massachusetts.

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Police investigators, armed with an instantaneous DNA analysis, would have run Gary Irving's genetic profile through any and all rape kits collected throughout Irving's 34-year charade as a quiet, peaceful resident of quiet, peaceful Gorham. And within mere seconds, they'd have tied the thrice-convicted Massachusetts rapist to one, two ... who knows how many unsolved rapes all over Maine.

"It's the modern-day fingerprint," noted Maine State Police Trooper Jeremy Forbes on Tuesday as he awaited Irving's DNA report from a crime lab in Massachusetts. "It puts you at the crime."

Assuming, of course, Maine has crimes at which Irving can be put.

This much we know: As an 18-year-old living on Massachusetts' South Shore, Irving sexually assaulted three women -- including one at knifepoint in his car and another whom he knocked from her bicycle before brutally and repeatedly raping her in a secluded area.

Then, on the weekend before he was to receive a possible lifetime prison sentence, he skipped bail and headed north to Maine -- not to be seen or heard from until police showed up at his doorstep last week.

So what happened during all those years on the lam? Did Irving, now 52, simply flip a switch on his animalistic ways and reinvent himself as a law-abiding Everyman?

Or are there other women, right here in Maine, who know otherwise?

As Forbes and other investigators begin the months-long task of retracing Irving's steps over so many years, only one thing is certain: They'll be searching for tiny needles in a horrifyingly huge haystack.

"I don't envy them that task, for certain," said Cara Courchesne, communications and outreach coordinator for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Let's go to the numbers.

We begin with the Maine Department of Public Safety's annual Uniform Crime Reports, where a quick tabulation shows 3,286 forcible rapes reported in Maine from 2002 to 2011. Only 1,608 cases -- fewer than half -- have been cleared by police.

In other words, 1,678 victims of forcible rape in Maine have yet to see justice. Some are still waiting for their rapist to be caught, others undoubtedly are despairing that their case is too old, too cold and too dusty to warrant another look.

But even those hard numbers, as Courchesne notes in a whopper of an understatement, "are not quite as accurate as what we see."

According to the "Maine Crime Victimization Report," a survey done in 2011 by the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service, one in five Maine adults -- the vast majority of them women -- have been victims of rape or attempted rape.

In fact, the study showed that every 12 months, an estimated 13,000 Mainers suffer rape or unwanted sexual activity.

"They're everywhere," said Amy Thomas, executive director of Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine.

Some, Thomas noted, seek help immediately. Others wait years to step forward -- if they make themselves known at all.

"It just all depends on where they are in their healing process -- and the support systems that they may or may not have," Thomas said. "But we do find that many victims and survivors can be triggered when something like (Irving's arrest) comes up. Our crisis and support line gets quite busy."

Irving, of course, was but one of thousands of rapists living in the shadows before police, alerted by a disgruntled relative in Massachusetts, zeroed in on his home in Gorham last week.

Since fleeing here from Massachusetts in 1979, Irving had married, raised a family and lived what by all accounts so far was a law-abiding life under the assumed first name of "Gregg."

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