Judge tosses out rape charges in cold case trial
The prosecution of a former Boynton Beach man on charges of raping a mentally impaired woman in 2004 has ended, after a judge tossed two felony counts because the alleged crimes happened too long ago.
Pascal Estime, 55, was released from Palm Beach County Jail on Monday evening, hours after Circuit Judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer dismissed the charges and canceled a Dec. 11 trial.
Estime is free to return to his home in Orlando, where he had lived before his arrest in July while he waited at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to board a plane for Haiti.
The case had gone cold until detectives last year got a new warrant for Estime’s DNA.
It turned out to be a near 100 percent match to DNA from fetal tissue collected and preserved through the years after the 20-year-old victim’s pregnancy was aborted.
Identified in court records only by the initials, T.J., the victim, with an IQ in the range of 40 to 55, was sexually battered by Estime twice in the home of her caretaker, Boynton Beach police said.
The woman gave a sworn statement naming “Pascal” as her attacker, but police weren’t able to locate Estime at that time to serve a warrant for his DNA. In 2016, Estime was tracked to Orlando and a new effort was made to get his DNA, culminating in his arrest at the airport.
“Justice was a long time coming for the victim in this case,” Boynton Beach police announced after Estime’s capture and his “full confession.”
But the persistence of detectives to make an arrest now appears to have been in vain.
The judge ruled that a four-year statute of limitations to bring charges applies, regardless of the recent DNA match.
Prosecutors, who can still appeal the ruling, declined to comment.
Assistant Public Defender Christopher Fox-Lent said he could not discuss the outcome of the case, pointing instead to the judge’s order. A Boynton Beach police spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
Assistant State Attorney Brianna Coakley had argued the clock hadn’t run out on the prosecution because the DNA wasn’t used to identify Estime until June.
Favoring an argument from Estime’s lawyer, Schosberg Feuer explained in her ruling that there are restrictions on when DNA can be used to file charges against someone many years after a crime.
A DNA match for a cold case arrest is allowed in cases where a suspect remains unknown until the DNA discovery, the judge wrote in a seven-page order.
But law enforcement knew about Estime in 2004 because the victim “explicitly” named her assailant, meaning there was four years from that point to start the prosecution, the judge said.
“T.J., the victim, gave a sworn statement to law enforcement directly naming the Defendant, a man with whom she was familiar, and described the alleged acts that took place,” Schosberg Feuer wrote.