A Bellingham rapist must serve at least 35 ½ years in prison – and up to life behind bars – for abducting and sexually assaulting three strangers for hours as he held them at knifepoint, a Whatcom County judge ruled.
On Tuesday morning detectives read statements from the victims – a woman and two teenagers – to a courtroom packed with family members of victims, and the police who investigated the case.
“To say that you are a monster is almost too kind,” wrote the woman, 57, who was abducted when she walked through downtown Bellingham on the night of Feb. 1, 2015.
Edmund Richard Olivas Jr., 36, forced her into his car at knifepoint. He drove the woman out of the city, and over the course of the night Olivas punched her face, tied a belt around her neck and sexually abused her, until she escaped when the car’s tires got stuck on mud on Sorenson Road. She walked and crawled to a porch of a nearby home, according to court records. The resident found her around 5:25 a.m. She suffered deep bruising to her neck, swelling to her lips and a black eye.
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Detectives canvassed the area. They could not find the abductor.
More than a year later, on the night of May 27, 2016, a man in a New York Yankees hat approached two high school seniors at the Cordata bus station. He asked the teens for directions, and when he asked them to drive him there, the teens reluctantly agreed to get in the man’s van. Once they had driven a short distance, he held a knife to one teen’s throat and accused her of trying to steal the van. He bound the pair with shoelaces, and ordered them onto the floor. He parked at a barn and forced both teens to perform sex acts at knifepoint. He told one of them if she didn’t cooperate, he would stab her friend to death.
In the early morning hours the rapist let the teens out in a secluded brushy road near Lynden. He took away their shoes and phones, and the girls walked in socks through the night to Bellingham.
Samples of DNA from the two cases matched a third unsolved sexual assault from 2003, when an 11-year-old girl was raped by a young stranger in Los Angeles.
Security footage from the Cordata bus station showed the suspect and a van that looked like an Oldsmobile Silhouette. So police made a list of every Silhouette in northwest Washington. About two weeks later, on June 15, sheriff’s deputies went to 4383 Rock Road near Sumas to check on a van registered to Olivas’ wife. They saw Olivas, a stay-at-home dad, sitting on the doorstep. He looked identical to the man caught on camera at the bus station. He seemed to be wearing the same black-and-white shoes. He told police his name was Eddie, and he’d moved to the area from California.
Hours later officers swarmed the home and arrested him. A search warrant of Olivas’ home turned up a Yankees hat next to a bungee cord and a shoelace. Swabs from Olivas’ cheek confirmed it matched all three rape cases.
At the time of the first Bellingham abduction, Olivas lived under the name Anthony Michael Coles. Weeks later he legally changed it back to his given birth name, Edmund Richard Olivas Jr.
A 62-page report by the Department of Corrections recounts Olivas’ youth: severe depression; suicide attempts; a near-miss in a game of Russian Roulette; his father in and out of prison; his grandmother gifting him gang regalia for his 9th birthday; joining a gang as a teen; an arrest for stealing liquor at age 13; a conviction two years later for carjacking a woman, while he was armed with a pellet handgun; a break-in and alleged sexual assault on a half-asleep woman in Santa Barbara, where he admitted to breaking in but denied fondling her; and the alleged rape of the 11-year-old girl in Los Angeles.
In the California case from 2003, a preteen girl reported she was talking on the phone outside her home when a passerby cut off her conversation and offered her marijuana. She said no, she didn’t smoke, and he started making “sweet talk.” He then grabbed her, held her down, and raped her as she begged him to stop, according to accounts in the Department of Corrections report.
Olivas would have been 23 years old at the time.
Over the course of the Whatcom County rape investigations, police spoke with one of Olivas’ former neighbors, when he lived off East Smith Road around 2013. She recalled a night when Olivas – then going by Michael Coles –broke into her home at 1 a.m. by putting a ladder against her second floor balcony. She found him in the kitchen saying “kiss me, kiss me,” in a menacing tone, according to the Corrections investigation. Olivas fled when she told him the police were coming. Her husband confronted Olivas the next day, but didn’t call police at the time.
Not long after that, Olivas and his wife moved from the neighborhood.
The Corrections report concludes Olivas “breaks into residences (and) grabs females off the street,” and his actions have left “ripples of pain, sadness, terror and extreme fear” in the community.
Months after his arrest, in December 2016, Olivas beat another inmate over a debt of a bag of coffee, according to court records. Weeks later Olivas pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault, and he was sentenced to a year in jail.
Olivas pleaded guilty in March to three counts of first-degree rape while armed with a deadly weapon and two counts of felony harassment. Seven other felony counts – kidnapping, assault, harassment – were dismissed in a plea deal.
On Tuesday morning in court Olivas looked much thinner than the “chubby” man the victims had described to police in 2016. He listened to the proceedings with a somber expression on his face, and stood up to read a three-sentence statement to the judge.
“Your honor,” Olivas said, “I want to accept responsibility for the crimes to which I have pled guilty. I wanted to spare the victims from having to go through a trial. And I apologize to everyone I have hurt.”
In another statement read in court by a detective, one of the teens said she’s unsure if she will ever forgive Olivas. She wondered how he could have been so vicious to two strangers who were only trying to help him.
“I will never fall for someone’s kindness so easily,” she wrote. “I will never forgive someone so easily. But tell me, why did I have to learn not to do that in such a cruel way? I don’t deserve it. Neither did she.”
Her friend spoke to the judge directly, and apologized for how that night had hurt her family: She said it was her mistake to trust a stranger. In response, Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis emphasized to the teens that what happened was not their fault – it was Olivas’ alone. She told them to never be ashamed of what happened to them.
The judge then turned to Olivas.
“It is not in my nature as a judge to believe that anyone is beyond redemption, beyond accepting responsibility, and beyond moving forward,” Montoya-Lewis said. “Unfortunately, in your case, Mr. Olivas, there is virtually nothing in front of me that could lead me to conclude you are capable of this.
“Your crimes against women,” she continued, “show no empathy, no kindness and no consideration for the humanity of your victims. Instead your crimes show you to be a calculating predator, who derives pleasure from the terror of others.”
Olivas showed no outward reaction.
The judge approved the plea deal and sentenced Olivas to 35 ½ years in prison, which reflects how much he will serve if he gets time off for good behavior, and if he makes parole. A review board would decide if Olivas is ever fit for release. If not, he could be held behind bars for the rest of his life.
As she handed down the sentence, Montoya-Lewis said that Olivas spent years trying to control and bring fear to women.
The judge told him: “Today you become the one who suffers.”