Crime

Bellingham man pleads guilty to rape in Maritime Heritage Park

Deputy Public Defender Richard Larson, left, appears with defendant Lance Rosa in Whatcom Superior Court in Bellingham, Monday, June 20, 2016.
Deputy Public Defender Richard Larson, left, appears with defendant Lance Rosa in Whatcom Superior Court in Bellingham, Monday, June 20, 2016. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

A Bellingham man pleaded guilty Thursday to the rape of a woman in Maritime Heritage Park.

A crime lab linked DNA from Lance Joseph Rosa, 37, to swabs from the woman who reported the rape in June.

The victim told police she had been walking near the park around 7 a.m. when she bumped into a man in a button-down shirt and cargo pants. He said his name was Chance. He asked her for a cigarette.

They walked on a wooden boardwalk in the park, until he pushed her to the ground below, where another man was waiting, according to her report.

She was forced to perform oral sex on the second man, and then Chance, later identified as Rosa, forced her onto her back and raped her, according to charging papers filed in Whatcom County Superior Court.

Two days later, police spoke with Rosa in the park. He had a pierced left nipple, as described by the woman. He told a detective he had been sleeping under a bridge where the woman said the rape happened.

But when police brought the woman to the scene, she said the rapist had lighter hair, less facial hair, and didn’t seem as animated as Rosa.

Still, police swabbed a sample of DNA from Rosa’s cheek. A week later, it came back as a match. By then Rosa had skipped town.

Detective Sue Howell traced his route out of town: a train ticket to Edmonds, and a ferry ride en route to the Olympic Peninsula. He was arrested in Port Angeles.

Rosa flashed his middle finger to a Superior Court commissioner at his first appearance in court June 20. He underwent a mental health evaluation – staff at Western State Hospital noted a history of hyperactivity, Tourette’s syndrome, substance abuse, and a possible diagnosis of bipolar disorder – before he was found competent to assist his attorney in August.

Rosa pleaded guilty Thursday to third-degree rape, first-degree kidnapping and second-degree assault. He has past felony convictions – theft and burglary – for crimes committed over a decade ago.

Under state guidelines the standard prison sentence for Rosa ranges from roughly 8 to 11 years. His plea agreement suggests 9 years and 2 months. A tentative sentencing date has been scheduled for late March, though those court hearings often are delayed.

Police still haven’t been able to identify the second suspect. However, they do have two samples of DNA, Lt. Danette Beckley said. The case remains under investigation.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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