The man accused of raping 17 women around the East Coast was scheduled to plead guilty Tuesday morning to attacks on three Prince William County women. Instead, he declined to plead guilty, and a trial is now expected to proceed in January.
Aaron Hijjmalike Thomas, 42, of New Haven, Ct., could face several life sentences if convicted. Thomas paused for several long moments, his head hanging, while a deputy held on to a belt around his waist, after he was asked how he pleaded. Prince William County Circuit Court Judge Mary Grace O'Brien then pressed him again for an answer.
"I'm not sure which way is wrong, which way is right," Thomas finally mumbled, his voice nearly inaudible. "I'm not sure I know what I'm doing."
Prosecutors had agreed to drop three firearms charges against Thomas in exchange for his guilty plea.
Thomas is also scheduled to plead guilty in Loudoun County this month to charges. It is unclear yet if he will go through with that. He has told the Washington Post that he is the East Coast Rapist.
After the hearing, Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney, Paul Ebert, said "All I can say is I'm not surprised."
Ebert said that his office had hoped to spare the victims the pain of testifying against Thomas, but the witnesses were prepared to appear at the trial.
On a rainy Halloween night in 2009, the three teenage victims—ages 17, 17 and 16—were walking home from trick-or-treating in the Dale City area, according to a search warrant filed last year in Prince William County Circuit Court.
As they were cutting through a shopping center parking lot on their way home, a man stopped them, showed what appeared to be a gun, and then asked the girls if they had any money, according to the warrant. When the girls said they did not, the man ordered them to a wooded area behind the store, and told them to drop their bags full of candy. He then took them to a clearing down a hill, where he told them to lie face down on the ground.
If they looked at him, the attacker said he would kill them. He then sexually assaulted the two 17-year-old victims. According to police reports, the 16-year-old was able to text her mother from the scene, and the mother called the police. Shortly after the assaults, the girls heard police sirens, and the man ran away.
According to the warrant, DNA evidence linked Thomas to the crime. U.S. Marshals arrested Thomas at his New Haven home without incident last year.
At his trial in January, Thomas will face three counts of abduction, two counts of rape, three counts of the use and display of a firearm in commission of a felony.