17 years later, DNA leads to second arrest in reported sexual assault of Utah teen

A suspect was first arrested in 2018, but the latest arrest came after new DNA technology helped produce a match.

(Bethany Baker | Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill speaks during a news conference on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. Gill announced new charges in a 2006 sexual assault case on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023.

Seventeen years after a girl told police she was kidnapped and raped, a second suspect has been charged in the alleged attack — thanks to advancement in DNA technology that ultimately produced a match, Salt Lake County prosecutors say.

The girl was walking home in the area of 300 S. Cheyenne Street on July 3, 2006, when she noticed a red hatchback pass her repeatedly, court documents state. A man then jumped out of the passenger side of the car, pointed a handgun at her stomach, and shoved her inside, according to charging documents.

The girl was taken to a field, where she said the car’s passenger and driver sexually assaulted her before forcing her back into the car, charging documents state. The two men then stole the girl’s cell phone, ID and cash before throwing her out of the car, charging documents state.

Medical professionals treated the girl at a nearby hospital and collected the offenders’ DNA during an examination, according to court documents. The DNA was then sent to the Utah State Laboratory for testing.

Twelve years would pass before the sexual assault kit was tested in 2018 through the national Sexual Assault Kit Initiative. A match soon came back for Frank P. Benavidez, who had pleaded guilty to murder in late 2009 and remains incarcerated in Utah, according to the documents.

Benavidez was charged in October 2018 with aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault and aggravated robbery. The next hearing in the assault case is scheduled for Nov. 27.

The match was discovered through the Combined DNA Index System — or “CODIS” — which is a database of DNA profiles from convicted offenders, unsolved crime scene evidence and missing persons, according to the Department of Justice.

While the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office was preparing to prosecute Benavidez, investigators applied a new technology to unprocessed DNA samples in the case.

A second match was then returned on July 18, 2023, also from the CODIS database. It identified Jose Pina-Cruz as the second suspect in the reported assault, according to a news release Thursday from the Salt Lake County district attorney’s office.

Pina-Cruz was convicted of murder in December 2007, and is also incarcerated in Utah, according to court documents. He has since been charged with first-degree aggravated sexual assault, first-degree felony aggravated kidnapping, and first-degree felony aggravated robbery in the assault case.

“Developing technology played a critical role in this investigation,” Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said in a statement. “We commend our prosecutors that utilized DNA testing to continue to work the case to help identify the second alleged suspect.”

Gill added in his statement that prosecutors “appreciate the patience of the survivor and her family as this case was being investigated.”

“One can only imagine the fear and trauma for survivors and the community when an alleged assailant remains unknown and at large,” he said.

A few months after the girl reported being assaulted in 2006, Pina-Cruz and Benavidez were arrested after police said they attempted to force a woman into their vehicle, with Pina-Cruz acting as the “getaway driver.” The two were suspected of aggravated kidnapping, robbery and aggravated assault with a weapon, according to the district attorney’s office, but the case was later dismissed.