RIVERSIDE (CNS) – A convicted felon who allegedly committed at least six sexual assaults in Corona and Riverside over an 11-year span, gaining control over victims with a knife or gun in extended attacks, pleaded not guilty today to forcible rape and other offenses.
“These were extremely violent assaults,” Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said during a briefing at the D.A.’s headquarters in downtown Riverside. “The victims suffered. These were tremendously horrible incidents, and for some of them, their lives will never be the same.”
Darin Edward Cooke, 50, of Prescott, Arizona, was taken into custody by Yavapai County sheriff’s deputies on May 26 after an arrest warrant was served at his residence. Cooke was extradited to California and booked into the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside on Sunday. He’s being held in lieu of $3 million bail and slated to make his initial court appearance today.
Hestrin said a DNA profile developed from the first assault on April 4, 1996, all the way to the last known one on May 8, 2007, cinched the case for cold case investigators in the Corona and Riverside police departments.
“This man terrorized the community. The victims were terrorized,” Hestrin said. “It was some great detective work that led us to this point.”
Hestrin said some of the victims resided in the same apartment complex — now known as Corona Pointe — where the defendant lived.
Cooke is charged with six counts of forcible rape, four counts of forced oral copulation, three counts of assault with intent to commit rape, two counts of kidnapping to commit rape and one count of unlawful bodily injury by means of sexual penetration, with assorted sentence-enhancing allegations, including targeting multiple victims in sex crimes.
“My hope is that the victims and the community find peace knowing the person responsible for these crimes will be brought to justice,” Corona police Chief George Johnstone said. “There could be more victims who have not come forward. Please contact the Corona or Riverside police departments if you have information.”
Riverside police Chief Larry Gonzalez said he remembered the period when the first attack occurred because he was working as a patrol officer in the area.
“We never stopped. We never gave up looking for this person,” Gonzalez said. “I am truly sorry for the terror you, the victims, went through. It was the tenacity of the detectives in Riverside and Corona, who worked collaboratively, to solve this case.”
Hestrin declined to cite specifics related to how the investigation unfolded, but said the state’s DNA database, where forensic material from each attack was stored, proved pivotal in eventually gaining a “hit” last year on evidence that pointed to Cooke as the alleged assailant.
Detectives had been able to develop a DNA profile — without a name or any other identifying details — of the perpetrator in 2015, and a “John Doe” warrant was issued, but without anything else to go on, the case lingered without resolution.
“This individual was a true predator,” Hestrin said. “He was stalking, watching victims, waiting for them to be alone, when he would then have a chance to hold them at gunpoint or knifepoint and violently rape and assault them, over and over again.”
According to the district attorney, the prosecutors assigned to the case will have to bring all evidence to the fore, relying on the victims’ testimony in court, in the hope of winning a conviction.
“DNA is powerful evidence, but it’s not the only evidence,” Hestrin said. “We will go into court and prove this case.”
He said special recognition should be paid to the detectives and crime technicians who initially investigated the assaults in the 1990s, some of whom are now retired.
“They were meticulous and careful about going in there and collecting forensic evidence — that was key to this case,” Hestrin said. “They took apart the crime scene and gathered the facts. Great detective work back then. We’re all of one mind in law enforcement: Keep looking for cold cases and fighting for justice. We don’t care how long it takes.”
Along with local police agencies, the FBI was also involved in the investigation.
There was no word on what kind of work Cooke was doing at the time of the alleged attacks, and information regarding his prior felony conviction, which occurred in another jurisdiction, also was not immediately available.