A 39-year-old Arlington man has been sentenced to 65 years in prison for raping two lifeguards at gunpoint in Alexandria and Fairfax County.
Jesse Bjerke, a former nurse at Inova Alexandria Hospital, pleaded guilty last year to raping a lifeguard at a condominium complex swimming pool in the 200 block of Pickett Street on Labor Day weekend in 2016, as well as raping another woman in Fairfax County on August 1, 2014.
“The judgement shows an understanding for the violence and the pre-planning that went into these atrocious crimes,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter. “I think it will serve our community since he can’t be a predator on any other woman.”
Alexandria Police were able to locate Bjerke using genetic geneology.
“A DNA profile was developed from the sperm located within the victim, but a search revealed no match in law enforcement databases,” according to the city. “After traditional attempts to identify a suspect were unsuccessful and all leads had been exhausted, the Alexandria Police Department contracted with Parabon® Nanolabs to have the suspect’s DNA analyzed using genetic genealogy. Parabon® investigators used a public access site called GEDmatch to search for relatives of the suspect. Using the list of relatives and the strength of the relationship, Parabon® was able to suggest one suspect for further investigation: Jesse Bjerke, the defendant.”
As part of a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty, Bjerke admitted to raping a lifeguard in Fairfax in 2014, and both cases were tried simultaneously.
“When he is 65, he can apply for geriatric release,” Porter said. “But with my experience with violent crime that’s unlikely.”
Porter congratulated the police on finding the suspect.
“The police department really should be praised and did an outstanding job in corroborating that we have the right man,” he said. “And, of course, that led to a very solid case from an evidence standpoint, which in turn led to him taking responsibility for his crime.”
A description from the city of the 2016 incident is below the jump.
The weather was cool and cloudy, and no one was at the pool. Around 12:30 a man arrived at the pool asking if he had left his flip-flops there the day before. The victim looked around the pool area and went into a pump room where found items are stored, and the man followed her around as she did so. Having not found the shoes, the man left.
The man returned sometime after 1 p.m. and asked if they could look for the shoes again. He again followed the victim around the pool area and to the pump room. When she turned to tell the man that the shoes were not there, the man pointed a gun at her face. The victim screamed, and the man told her, “Stop screaming, or I’ll shoot you in the mouth.”
The man then instructed the victim to get on her knees, and he zip-tied her hands behind her back. He put tissues in her mouth to prevent her from screaming, and he put on blue latex gloves. The man told the victim, “I am going to rape you, kill you, or I will do both.” He again threatened to shoot her if she screamed, and he ordered her to not look at him. The victim closed her eyes.
The man removed the victim’s clothing and kissed her breasts. He applied pressure to her throat and struck her in the head several times. He attempted to rape her, but he was initially unable to get an erection. He inserted his fingers inside the victim’s vagina, and then he raped her. After he ejaculated, he got up and fled the scene on foot.
The victim was able to get out of the room 5 minutes later, and she called her boyfriend, who called the police. The first officer on scene found the victim, half-naked and still zip-tied so tightly that her hands were turning blue. The victim was transported to Fairfax INOVA Hospital for medical care and the performance of a Sexual Assault Nurse Examination (SANE).
During the evaluation, the nurse noted multiple bruises and abrasions consistent with the victim’s report, to include internal injuries caused by the attack.Detective Ryan Clinch of the Alexandria Police Department performed covert surveillance and collected abandoned trash outside the defendant’s home, as well as straws that the defendant left at a restaurant. A comparison of the DNA located on those items to the DNA found within the suspect’s sperm yielded a match.
Upon arrest, the defendant’s known DNA sample was collected, and the Department of Forensic Science calculated the odds of randomly selecting a match at 1 in 7.2 billion, which is approximately the world population.
After the defendant was arrested, the investigation continued. The defendant’s employment records were subpoenaed from Alexandria INOVA Hospital, where the defendant had been employed as a nurse in the emergency room. The INOVA records revealed that on the day of the offense, the defendant unexpectedly left work at 8:30 a.m., just an hour and a half into his shift, claiming to be sick.
A search warrant for the defendant’s phone location data revealed that after he left work, he drove around Alexandria and Fairfax County for the remainder of the morning. At 12:30 p.m., he turned his phone off, and at 12:41 p.m., he turned it back on; at that time, his phone connected with the cell tower closest to the crime scene. His phone again used that tower at 1:06 p.m., and then he turned it off again during the time period of the offense, from 1:23 p.m. until 2:15 p.m. During the precise two times that the victim reported that the suspect was at the pool, the defendant had turned off his phone–and his last known location prior to turning it off was the closest cell phone tower to the pool, located just 600 feet away.
Search warrants executed upon the defendant’s cell phone revealed that he had a specific interest in reading–and then deleting–articles about how genetic genealogy has been used to solve cold case rape offenses. A search warrant upon his email account showed that during the same time he was reading about genetic genealogy’s use of public records to identify suspects, the defendant sought to delete accounts that tracked his location and remove his name from public records databases.
The case was thoroughly investigated by Detective Ryan Clinch of the Alexandria Police Department, with significant support from Parabon® Nanolabs and the Virginia Department of Forensic Science. Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jessica Best Smith diligently prosecuted the matter on the behalf of the Commonwealth.
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