Attorney for man on trial for Orange County cold-case rapes alleges client’s twin is guilty – Orange County Register

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A Highland man on trial for a pair of rapes that occurred in south Orange County more than two decades ago denies he was responsible for the assaults, with his attorney telling jurors on Wednesday, Jan. 25, that they were actually carried out by his client’s twin brother.

Kevin Konther, now 57, was arrested in 2019 after authorities say his DNA was tied to the 1995 rape of a 9-year-old girl in Lake Forest and the 1998 rape of a 32-year-old woman runner in Mission Viejo. Authorities have acknowledged that the DNA allegedly matched his twin brother as well, but they said further investigation led them to identify Kevin Konther as the suspect.

Konther is also accused of lewd acts with a girlfriend’s daughter when she was 8 or 9 years old at the couple’s homes in Huntington Beach and Highland.

During openings statements on Wednesday in a Santa Ana courtroom, Deputy District Attorney Juliet Oliver told an Orange County Superior Court jury that in surreptitiously recorded conversations between the brothers in police vehicles and at the Huntington Beach jail Kevin Konther, after both were arrested, expressed no shock at his arrest, while his brother was upset and angry.

The twin was released and never charged. In those secret records, the prosecutor said, Kevin Konther made incriminating statements while his brother did not.

Deputy Public Defender Jessica Ann Sweeny told jurors that the twins have been close their entire lives, though Kevin Konther was considered by others as the less successful “black sheep” of the family.

“Kevin was not the one who committed these crimes, it was (his brother),” the defense attorney said. “Just as he has his entire life, Kevin covered for (his brother) and decided he would be the one to take the blame.”

The first victim, now 36, took the stand Wednesday to describe how she was almost home after walking to a nearby store to pick up a magazine and school supplies when a man came up behind her, put a hand over her mouth, said he had a knife and ordered her not to scream as he pushed her down an embankment and into Serrano Park.

“I was terrified, I thought he was going to kill me,” she testified. “I begged him not to hurt me. I still had quarters in my pocket I told him he could take. I didn’t know what he wanted.”

The woman said she pleaded with the attacker not to kill her, as he forced her to take off her clothes and raped her.

“I told him ‘Please, I’m only nine,’ ” she testified. “He kind of laughed and said something along the lines of, ‘Yeah, right.’ “

Three years later, the prosecutor said, a man grabbed a 32-year-old woman who was running along a secluded bike trail close to the foot of the Saddleback Mountains on the outskirts of Mission Viejo, dragged her down an embankment and raped her.

DNA collected during forensic examinations of the girl and the woman shortly after the rapes led investigators to determine that the same man had carried out both sexual assaults. But without any suspects, the case went cold until it was reopened by an Orange County Sheriff’s Department investigator in 2018.

That investigator worked with the FBI’s Genealogy Team to explore familial DNA searches similar to those that had gained widespread attention at the time in catching the so-called Golden State Killer, sheriff officials previously indicated. It wasn’t disclosed how DNA from one of the brothers, or a family member, ended up in a database.

The prosecutor on Wednesday said the investigator also compared the DNA collected at the crime scenes to samples collected from the Konthers from their trash.

After the investigator identified Konther as a suspect, he learned of accusations against him made by a girlfriend’s daughter in 2003. The prosecutor alleged that Konther would come into the girl’s room naked while she was pretending to sleep, would stand “uncomfortably close” and would sometimes pull down her pants and underwear.

Konther’s attorney told jurors that they would hear no evidence placing him in the areas where the rapes took place “other than speculation from a disgruntled ex-girlfriend.” She added that when confronted initially by law enforcement with the allegations related to his girlfriend’s daughter, Konther willingly offered to give a DNA sample.

“Someone who is guilty of something in 1995 and 1998 is not willingly going to give a DNA sample,” Sweeny said.

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