Local News

Soldier charged in Fayetteville rapes; second suspect sought

Posted March 12, 2010 8:28 a.m. EST
Updated March 12, 2010 6:20 p.m. EST

— A Fort Bragg soldier was charged Friday in connection with several sexual assaults in Fayetteville and Hoke County, but authorities said they are still looking for a different man in a highly publicized string of rapes in the Fayetteville area last year.

Army Spc. Aaron Michael Pernell, 22, was charged with three counts each of first-degree rape and first-degree kidnapping, one count of attempted first-degree rape, five counts of attempted second-degree rape, two counts of second-degree kidnapping, four counts of assault on a female, six counts of first-degree burglary and one count each of first-degree sex offense and robbery with a dangerous weapon.

Authorities said the charges stemmed from three incidents in Fayetteville and three in Hoke County, but they declined to provide details of the cases other than to say they occurred in 2008 and 2009.

Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin said in January that DNA evidence linked a rape case that occurred east of Raeford last August with an unsolved rape in Fayetteville. It's unclear if those cases were among the the six cases in which Pernell is charged.

Members of a task force investigating the Fayetteville rapes have never publicly linked a Hoke County case with the others.

Pernell was charged last month with two burglaries and a sexual assault on Fort Bragg in December. He was then named a person of interest in a string of rapes and burglaries in the Fayetteville area.

Between last June and early January, a man broke into six residences – usually an apartment – in Fayetteville and one in Hope Mills late at night while a woman was home alone, according to police reports. In an eighth case, a Fayetteville woman fought off her attacker.

"One thing the task force did was determine that we had two separate people," Peterkin said at a news conference Friday. "I feel that we will now be able to do a whole lot more with this other suspect."

Authorities issued a sketch of a man believed to be responsible for the series of attacks, and they asked anyone who might recognize the person in the sketch to call a tip line at 910-433-1934.

They declined to say how or when they developed the sketch.

Capt. Mark Bridgeman of the Fayetteville Police Department declined to comment when asked why investigators didn't notify people earlier that there were two people suspected of committing several sexual assaults.

Fayetteville City Council members expressed frustration in January about the lack of public notice by police to the string of rapes. City officials changed the reporting policy to require police to notify the public within 72 hours of a sexual assault where the suspect is unknown.

No sexual assaults have been reported since January that could be linked to the second suspect, Bridgeman said.

Pernell remains in military custody at Fort Bragg, authorities said. Maj. Brian Fickel, spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division, said the Army would work with local authorities to coordinate prosecution of the various cases.