A New Mexico man has pleaded no contest to sexually assaulting a woman in a Mountain View hotel after a DNA match ultimately linked him to the scene, closing a case that spanned two states and more than 15 years.
Van Overton, Jr., 45, will serve a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison after pleading no contest Tuesday in Santa Clara County Superior Court to oral copulation during a residential robbery. The Albuquerque resident was arrested and extradited out of New Mexico in February after a rape kit from a 1997 crime was finally tested and matched DNA from the 2004 Mountain View sexual assault.
That DNA evidence — which sat untouched in New Mexico for more than two decades — proved the “silver bullet” in the case, said the prosecutor Deputy District Attorney Barbara Cathcart.
“It really shows how important it is to test rape kits quickly, because we probably could have solved this sixteen years ago,” Cathcart said. “At the same time, I think it’s so great that both victims came forward and actually went through the process — because that’s how the link was finally made.”
The Mountain View incident unfolded at around 4 a.m. on a February morning in 2004, when police responded to a call from the now-demolished Lucky U Motel, located on Fairchild Drive just off of Bayshore Freeway. A then 42-year-old woman told officers she was sleeping when a man broke in through the first-floor window and sexually assaulted her.
Police scoured the neighborhood for the suspect and collected DNA from the motel room pillow and window, which they entered as a profile into the national Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS — to no avail.
Meanwhile a few states away in Albuquerque, police had amassed a rape kit backlog of about 5,000 kits, some of which went back to the 1980s. A mayoral executive order in 2018 prompted police to finally work through the kits. And in January, they found a match.
The evidence in question was from 1997 and involved DNA from an assault between a then 17-year-old and an acquaintance. Working with Mountain View police and the 1997 victim, Albuquerque police served a search warrant to obtain a DNA sample from Overton, which Mountain View detectives flew out to pick up in person in early February. The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Crime Lab confirmed the sample matched the DNA profiles in both cases.
The match came as a big relief to the Mountain View woman, who had been calling to check with the police every year around the anniversary of the assault, Captain Jessica Nowaski previously told this news organization.
“It was just so important to her that this person be found and identified,” Cathcart added. “So that that finally happened — it was just amazing.”
Overton had lived in the Bay Area for a stint between 2002 and 2006, after which he moved back to Albuquerque, police said. Now 45, he was “somewhat of a public figure” in the community, the local Albuquerque Journal reported, and was active in the TEDx speech community and several youth advocacy organizations.
Overton’s sentencing is scheduled for November. His defense attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.