Aaron Thomas arrives in police custody at an airport in Manassas on Nov.… (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington…)
Aaron Thomas, known as the East Coast Rapist, was sentenced Friday to two life terms in prison for a May 2001 attack in Loudoun County.
Thomas, 41, had pleaded guilty in November to abducting and raping a woman who was in the process of moving out of her Leesburg apartment, binding her with rope and threatening her with a screwdriver before stealing her clothes and leaving her naked.
Thomas also is serving more than three life sentences for a Halloween 2009 attack on three teenage trick-or-treaters in Prince William County, the last in a string of at least 13 attacks linked to him by DNA in Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Virginia dating to the 1990s. Because Virginia has no parole — and because Thomas now has five life sentences to serve — it is almost certain that he will never be released from custody.
At the hearing Friday, Thomas came face-to-face with one of his victims. Tracie Saunders took the stand to describe the horror of being raped and threatened with death, and the lasting effects of an attack that happened nearly 12 years ago.
“It took me a long time to get over it, about a year,” Saunders testified, as Thomas stared down at the defense table, his head bowed. “He hurt my body, but I would not allow him to hurt my head. I became stronger than him.”
Saunders, who asked that her identity be made public as she hopes to become a victim advocate, said she lived in fear for several years and had a hard time trusting men, afraid that everyone knew she had been raped. She said Thomas changed her life in that empty apartment, when he made her fear she would never again see her children.
“I’m very glad to know he won’t be able to hurt anyone ever again,” Saunders said.
Thomas told Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne that he needs help and treatment “to figure out why and how I ended up like this. I want to be punished and I know I need to be punished.”
Horne said sternly that Thomas’s crimes deserved the ultimate punishment he could give, one life term for rape and one life term for abduction.
“What you did to her is the same as if you had taken a knife and drove it right through her heart,” Horne said, referring to Saunders. “Instead, you drove it right through her soul.”
Thomas’s defense attorney said three members of Thomas’s family — his mother, brother and sister — defied subpoenas to appear in court Friday. Thomas’s mother, who lives in Virginia, has attended previous court hearings.
The guilty pleas in the Loudoun attack were Thomas’s first in a string of cases that date from the early 1990s in Prince George’s County to 2009 in Prince William, where he pleaded guilty to rape and abduction and was sentenced to three life terms.
Thomas has admitted — to police, in court and in interviews with The Washington Post — that he was the so-called East Coast Rapist.
In interviews, Thomas, the son of a D.C. police officer, has explained the attacks as emerging from his time as a desperate homeless man in Prince George’s County in the early 1990s, when he gave in to animalistic urges. He told The Post that he was never on the run, that he committed the attacks when he felt lonely or lost, and that he, at times, was able to control his urges.
Newly released court documents in Prince William give additional insight into Thomas’s behavior. In a 255-page transcript of Thomas’s interviews with police on the day of his arrest in New Haven, Conn. — March 4, 2011 — Thomas immediately told police they had the right man but said he wanted to dispute what he had read about the cases in the newspapers and on the Internet.
“I admit I am the person that caused all this trouble,” Thomas said. Thomas then said he had seen that he was accused of using a broken bottle and a screwdriver during attacks — apparent references to a graphic that appeared in The Post and detailed the rapes — and he “was like, whoa, where is all that coming from?”
He told police what he told The Post, that the crimes started in Prince George’s when he was 19 or 20 years old and couldn’t find work or a place to live. And he echoed his previously expressed opinion that he didn’t believe the attacks were violent.
“I just went to a woman, scared her and she gave me sex,” Thomas said, according to the transcript. He would use intimidation, fake weapons and threats to subdue his victims. “You know I didn’t intend on hurting nobody and causing blood and all that stuff. You know, I didn’t put my hand to women.”
Thomas described walking the streets, noticing locations that would be good for an attack, scouting escape routes and taking advantage of “an opportunity” when a woman would come along. He said he would jump out and take the women from the sidewalk to the woods — a description that matches many given by victims of his known attacks.
“I’m almost like a predator,” he told police.