Friday, January 27, 2012

'Prime suspect' in Esme Barrera slaying found dead

 austin has become a big city with big problems.  this one is over.

Police: 'Prime suspect' in Esme Barrera slaying found dead

Man who killed himself linked to several other assaults

James Loren Brown is 'prime suspect' in New Year's Day attacks, police say.
James Loren Brown is 'prime suspect' in New Year's Day attacks, police say.
Esme Barrera was avid music fan, fixture in Austin's rock scene.
Esme Barrera was avid music fan, fixture in Austin's rock scene.
GW Babb

Updated: 11:28 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012
Published: 10:42 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012
A man who committed suicide this month is the prime suspect in the slaying of 29-year-old Esme Barrera early New Year's Day, and has been linked through DNA evidence to another assault that morning and attacks on women jogging in South Austin last year, police said Thursday night.
The unsolved crimes had kept women across the city on edge and prompted warnings at the University of Texas campus.
James Loren Brown, 25, was found dead in his apartment in the 3000 block of Guadalupe Street on Jan. 12, blocks away from where three women were attacked early New Year's Day, said police Cmdr. Julie O'Brien.
One of those was Barrera, a special education assistant teacher who was killed after someone broke into her home in the 3100 block of King Street . Police have not said how Barrera was killed.
"Although I am not going to say definitively that the suspect is absolutely the murderer of Barrera, we are prepared to say he is a prime suspect," Chief Art Acevedo said at a news conference Thursday night. "Based on everything we've seen so far, we can sleep a little bit more comfortably tonight. We've got a predator that is no longer among us."
The first New Year's Day attack was reported about 2 a.m. when a woman said she was assaulted in the street at West 31st and King streets by a man who ran away when she started screaming.
Barrera was found slain in her home about 2:45 a.m. The third woman was attacked inside her home in the 300 block of East 31st Street about 5 a.m., police have said.
Police released a composite sketch of the suspect in the first attack, but officials could not say at the time that the three attacks were related.
O'Brien said that police were able to get DNA evidence from the third attack, which they were able to link to four other attacks on women last year. They included an assault in the 4300 block of South Congress Avenue on July 1, an assault and an attempted sexual assault of two joggers in South Austin on July 8, and an assault on Sept. 11 at Comal and Haskell streets in East Austin.
Details in the attacks were similar. In each case, O'Brien said, a man attempted to push or pull a woman to the ground.
All took place early in the morning.
Last year, a 33-year-old homeless man was arrested in connection with the July attacks on the South Austin joggers; officers cited the man's resemblance to a police sketch of the suspect. That man was cleared in August through DNA evidence.
Detectives got a break in the cases on Jan. 12 , when a roommate notified police that Brown had committed suicide, O'Brien said. She said she could not say exactly how he died, but that he had been dead at least a week.
O'Brien said that after noticing that Brown looked like a composite photo of the suspect in one of those attacks, detectives linked his DNA found on an item inside his home to DNA evidence found at the attacks in July and September, as well as evidence from the 31st Street attack.
She said police are working to officially determine if Brown was involved in the other attack on King Street and Barrera's slaying.
"He is a suspect, but we have a lot of investigative work to do," O'Brien said.
Detectives are interviewing victims in other unsolved attacks to see if they may be related, she said.
Brown is also now a suspect in several indecent exposure cases around 31st Street, O'Brien said.
He has not been linked to any other homicide cases, she said.
Officials said Thursday they had little information on Brown.
He did not leave a note when he killed himself, O'Brien said, and his motive for the attacks is unknown.
"I hope we can find that out as we find out more about him," O'Brien said. "He was very much a 'below the radar' kind of person."
Brown had been in the Austin area for about a year and a half after his discharge from the military, O'Brien said. She had no immediate details about where he served.
Brown worked at a business on Lady Bird Lake, but O'Brien declined to say which one.
A search of public records indicates he had no criminal record. He had previous addresses in Dallas and Rhode Island.
University of Texas students returned from the winter break to emails describing the attack and the suspect.
The slaying angered those who knew Barrera, as well as those who never met her.
An El Paso native, Barrera was an avid music fan and a fixture in Austin's rock scene. The special education assistant at Casis Elementary School was also a clerk at Waterloo Records and a counselor at Girls Rock Camp Austin. Tribute concerts were held in Austin, Brooklyn, N.Y., and other cities after her death, aimed at raising money to help pay for her funeral costs.
Police met with residents in the Hyde Park and Heritage neighborhoods on several occasions to reassure them about their efforts to solve Barrera's slaying.
At the same time, Austinites posted pictures of the composite sketch at bars, restaurants, clubs and sign posts across the city.
Acevedo speculated Thursday that the exposure may have contributed to Brown's suicide.
He praised the efforts of his officers and the residents who got involved with the case and sent in tips.
"I personally want to thank the people of Austin," Acevedo said. "We put pressure on this person with that community outpouring."; 445-3548

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