DNA from a rape kit that sat untested for more than a decade has implicated a convicted murderer in the Utah State Prison in the rape of a 16-year-old girl in Salt Lake City.
On July 3, 2006, the victim — whose name wasn’t released because she wishes to remain anonymous — told Salt Lake City police she was walking home near 300 S. Cheyenne St. when she noticed a car with two men inside driving in circles around her, according to court documents. Soon after, the passenger jumped out and grabbed her, pointing a gun at her stomach. He said, “You’re coming with me, b----.”
The two men then took the girl to a field and forced her onto a mattress, according to the court documents. The passenger told the girl that he knew she hung out with a rival gang “that he hates.” Both men raped her.
Evidence from the newly tested rape kit indicates one of those men was Frank Puga Benavidez, now 31. He was charged Tuesday with two first-degree felony counts of aggravated kidnapping and a first-degree felony count of aggravated sex assault.
Police are still searching for the second suspect who was in the red, two-door Honda that day. According to charging documents, Benavidez denied he has ever sexually assaulted anyone.
Benavidez has been in the Utah State Prison since 2010, after he pleaded guilty to first-degree felony murder in the drive-by shooting death of 7-year-old Maria del Carmen Menchaca. The girl was playing outside on July 6, 2008 — almost two years to the date Benavidez is accused of raping the 16-year-old — when Benavidez, then 20, drove by with Gabriel Alejandro Alvarez, then 16. A 17-year-old girl, Mae Goodman Johnson, was also in the car.
They intended to kill Menchaca’s older cousin, Luis, after an altercation earlier in the day. But when Alvarez fired at Luis, he hit the 7-year-old girl, instead. Benavidez and Alvarez were each sentenced to 16 years to life in prison. Johnson was sentenced to 1 to 15 years in prison for giving Alvarez the gun.
The 16-year-old’s rape kit was identified for testing in 2017 after the victim called the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative information line. The information line opened that same year and is meant to help victims wondering about the status of their rape kit, the initiative’s Utah site coordinator Krystal Hazlett said.
While the kit had been tested previously, Hazlett said, DNA technology has improved since then and re-testing with modern technology can — and in this case did — get results, whereas older methods couldn’t.
The initiative began in 2015 and since then 3,483 rape kits have been forwarded to the crime lab to be tested. Hazlett said 2,521 have been completed, 827 have produced a DNA profile that was uploaded into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System and 402 of those have matched with a suspect in the system.
The testing has resulted in 15 cases filed in Salt Lake County, Hazlett said. Benavidez’s case is the most recent.
Those with questions about their past rape kits can call the sexual assault kit information line at 801-893-1145. Anyone with information on the second rape suspect or the red Honda can call Salt Lake City police at 801-799-3000.