Egg Harbor City man charged in 25-year-old Brigantine sex assault – Press of Atlantic City

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Egg Harbor City man charged in 25-year-old Brigantine sex assault

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John Russo

State and Brigantine police have arrested an Egg Harbor City man in the 25-year-old sexual assault of a young girl.

Brian Lee Avis, 59, was charged with sexual assault of the girl during a 1996 home invasion, after detectives used DNA evidence to solve a case that at one point went cold.

“No matter how long ago a crime occurred, we are committed to ensuring those who break the law are held accountable,” acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck said in a news release.

On July 19, 1996, Brigantine police responded to a report of a sexual assault at a home on East Evans Boulevard. A male suspect allegedly broke into the residence in the middle of the night and sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl while she was sleeping. When the victim woke, the suspect fled the scene, State Police said.

The victim, who is unidentified, would now be in her mid-30s.

“The sanctity and security of a 10-year-old girl’s bedroom was violated by a heinous act committed 25 years ago, violently stripping her of her innocence, resulting in emotional scars that are as fresh today as they were that fateful summer night in 1996,” said Col. Patrick J. Callahan, superintendent of the State Police.

Detectives collected evidence at the scene that night, obtaining a DNA sample of the suspect from the victim’s bed. The suspect’s DNA profile had been generated in 2002 and was uploaded to the Combined DNA Index System, the national DNA database, but no matches were found.

State Police recalled that during the summers of 1995 and 1996, there were about 14 reported incidents of an individual engaging in voyeuristic behavior and attempted sexual assaults of two sleeping teenage girls in the Brigantine area. Those incidents created widespread panic, State Police said, which led to an increased presence by Brigantine police.

A week after the assault on the 10-year-old girl, according to stories in The Press archives, more than 100 people attended a meeting at the city’s North School that was set up by residents. They accused the police of covering up the incidents that occurred during the summers of 1995 and 1996, leaving residents in the dark.

“There is no defense for not telling us,” said one resident in July 1996. “It’s ludicrous. My house is under construction and has no back door right now. For six weeks I’ve been at risk and didn’t know it.”

But police at the time said they only recently established that the incidents may constitute a pattern by the same individual. And most of the incidents — eight in the summer of 1995 and four in 1996 — involved only minor intrusions or peeping, the archives showed. The incidents began in August 1995, including some where the intruder made contact with the victims.

City officials in July 1996 said there had been nothing clear cut that led them to believe they were dealing with a serial criminal and noted they weren’t serious assaults and that there were noted differences in the incidents.

When the investigation was renewed, investigators determined the suspect lived in the vicinity, but he was never identified, and the cases remained unsolved, State Police said.

In January of this year, the State Police Cold Case Unit and Brigantine police reopened the assault case of the 10-year-old girl, working with the State Police Office of Forensic Sciences and a private company specializing in investigative genetic genealogy, the release states. The evidence was resubmitted to the forensics unit, and a more robust DNA sample for the suspect was obtained.

The DNA was then submitted to a private lab July 26, where it conducted a microarray single nucleotide polymorphisms test in an attempt to identify genetic relatives of the suspect based on the DNA sample from the scene. Through various investigative means, police said, detectives were able to identify Avis as the suspect.

“First I want to thank the original Brigantine police detectives who did a great job collecting and preserving the evidence 25 years ago. That evidence was preserved for 25 years and was able to still be used after all this time. It is a testament to their diligent detective work and the evidence custodians over the years who maintained and preserved the evidence for 25 years,” Brigantine police Chief Rich Casamento said in the release.

Avis was located by detectives Sunday and escorted to the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, where they executed a search warrant for his DNA. Detectives obtained the DNA by using a buccal swab, which collects cells from inside a person’s cheek. The sample revealed a positive match, authorities said.

Avis was arrested Monday and charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child under 13, sexual assault of a child under 13, burglary and endangering the welfare of a child. He was sent to the Atlantic County jail.

Anyone with additional information pertaining to the case can call Brigantine Detective Sgt. John Glasser at 609-266-7600, ext. 276, or State Police Cold Case Unit Detective Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Itri at 833-465-2653. Anonymous tips are welcome.

Thank you for reading The Press of Atlantic City. Please consider supporting The Press with a subscription.

Contact John Russo: 609-272-7184

jrusso@pressofac.com

Twitter: @ACPress_Russo

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