HomeTop Stories23 years later, DNA used the 68-year-old sexual assault suspect at the...

23 years later, DNA used the 68-year-old sexual assault suspect at the Walmart in Erie

The case was as disgusting as it was baffling.

More than 23 years ago, someone left a photo of male genitalia and a plastic bag of seminal fluid on the dashboard of a woman’s car in the Peach Street Walmart parking lot in Summit Township. Suspected seminal fluid was also rubbed on the steering wheel.

The case has finally been solved.

Using DNA evidence and a law extending the statute of limitations in certain DNA cases, the Pennsylvania State Police has charged a 68-year-old man from the Pittsburgh area with a second-degree felony of indecent assault and a first-degree felony of distribution of obscene material in the incident, which took place on January 11, 2000.

The defendant, Jeffrey W. Bechtold, of Trafford, was convicted in 2022 of a similar incident that occurred in Clarion County in 2021. State police said they used DNA in that case to match DNA from the seminal fluid in the 2000 case .

Pennsylvania State Police used DNA to file charges of indecent assault and distribution of obscene material from a 2020 incident.

Bechtold was never identified as a suspect until the DNA match, which police made on March 9, according to the criminal charges filed against Bechtold on July 31 in the latter case.

The statute of limitations on the charges against Bechtold would normally be two years unless the victim was a minor, according to the indictment and probable cause statement. The victim in the case was 22 years old at the time.

But since 2004, state law allows the prosecution of certain felony and sex offense charges after two years if DNA evidence is “used to identify an otherwise unidentified person as the perpetrator of the crime.” In such cases, prosecution can take place up to a year after “the identity of the individual has been established,” according to the law.

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The trooper who filed the charges in the Bechtold case, Christopher Marghella, cited the 2004 law amendment in the indictment.

Case unique to Erie County District Attorney’s Office

Erie County District Attorney Elizabeth Hirz said the Bechtold case is new to Erie County. She said it is the first time her office has prosecuted a case outside the normal statute of limitations using the 2004 law amendments regarding DNA identification of a suspect in a case involving a sex offense.

She said her office has been prosecuting sexual assault cases outside the normal statute of limitations when involving minors, extending the statute of limitations. The 2004 legislative changes regarding DNA identification extended the statute of limitations, regardless of the victim’s age.

“Thanks to advances in technology, the statute allows us to prosecute cases beyond the statute of limitations,” said Hirz, the district attorney since January 2022 and a prosecutor since 2002. “It’s another tool that allows us to prosecute older cases.”

Marghella filed the suit against Bechtold in the office of Summit Township District Judge Brian McGowan. Bechtold was charged by subpoena and McGowan scheduled a preliminary hearing for September 5.

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Defendant in Erie County case pleaded guilty in similar case in Clarion County

Bechtold declined to comment on the matter when reached by phone at his residence in Trafford, southeast of Pittsburgh. He confirmed that he was convicted of a similar incident that took place in Clarion County in November 2021. Police identified Bechtold as a suspect in that case using video surveillance — a security measure not widely available in 2000.

In the 2021 case, Bechtold was accused of posting Polaroid-style photos of male genitalia on a woman’s car parked at a Country Fair. He was charged in November 2021 with distributing obscene material as a first-degree felony. He pleaded guilty in October and was sentenced to a year’s probation on January 5, according to court documents.

As part of the sentence, according to court records, Bechtold was ordered to undergo an evaluation for drugs and alcohol and ordered to “submit a DNA sample.”

A ‘hit’ from the DNA database opened the 2000 case

In the 2000 case, the victim reported the incident to Walmart to state police shortly after it happened, according to the indictment. According to the complaint, the victim, a resident of Fairview Township, had driven her boyfriend’s car to Walmart with a friend and parked it outside the store.

In 2000, the Walmart was located at 1900 Keystone Drive, off Upper Peach Street in Summit Township. The current Walmart Supercenter is located at 1825 Downs Drive, about a quarter mile south of the site of the former Walmart, which closed in October 2010.

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While the woman was at the Walmart in 2000, according to the complaint, someone — later identified as Bechtold — posted a Polaroid photo of male genitalia and the plastic bag of seminal fluid on the car’s dashboard and presumably rubbed seminal fluid on the steering wheel. wheel. The incident happened around 9:30 p.m., police said.

“The victim was frightened and drove home and contacted PSP-Erie later that night,” the complaint said, citing state police.

Police obtained DNA from the seminal fluid and ran the DNA through a national database called CODIS for Combined DNA Index System, which is run by the FBI. No match was found and state police uploaded the DNA sample to CODIS, according to the criminal charge.

The profile sat in CODIS until March 9 with no activity. Marghella received “a CODIS hit” on that date, indicating that the suspect in the 2000 case was Bechtold, state police said in a press release. Bechtold’s known DNA sample had been uploaded to CODIS after his 2022 conviction, and that sample matched the sample from the 2000 case, police said.

Marghella obtained a search warrant for Bechtold’s DNA and obtained it on March 29, according to the indictment. He sent that sample to the state police lab for analysis.

The lab report came back on July 13. The report, according to the indictment, “confirmed that the seminal fluid left in the victim’s vehicle matched Bechtold’s known DNA profile.”

Marghella filed suit.

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Contact Ed Palattella at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ETNpalattella.

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: 2000 Erie-area Walmart incident leads to sexual assault charges

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