A jury on Wednesday convicted a New Jersey man of sexually assaulting or attempting to sexually assault five women in Atlantic City during the summer of 2012. In some cases, prosecutors said, the attacker threatened his victims with a toy gun. In at least one incident, he masqueraded as a police officer.
Hiten Patel, 35, of Egg Harbor Township, was arrested Aug. 2, 2012 after investigators linked him to at least 10 sexual assaults. Patel was acquitted Wednesday of sexually assaulting two of those victims, though he was found guilty of pulling an imitation firearm on one and attempting to rob the other.
Prosecutors said one of the remaining eight victims was removed from the trial after she was unable to be located. Two other cases connected to earlier attacks in 2011 were severed into a separate trial.
“This guilty verdict should serve as a reminder and deterrent of the grave consequences in store for individuals who seek to take advantage of vulnerable victims, especially women,” assistant prosecutor John Flammer said in a statement. “Due to the brave women who came forward and faced their attacker, this defendant will now be unable to harm anyone else.”
Seven women testified during the two-week trial, with several offering similar accounts of how Patel threatened them and sexually assaulted them at gunpoint. Some of the women said Patel choked them during the attacks, according to prosecutors.
After Patel's arrest, police seized from his van the firearm allegedly used in the crimes. Investigators said the weapon turned out to be a toy handgun that was altered to appear more realistic.
Patel, who took the stand Monday, testified the majority of his victims were prostitutes he had solicited or been solicited by. He denied sexually assaulting or threatening any women with the toy gun. Patel instead claimed he’d paid the women for consensual sex. He denied having any sexual contact with two of the victims.
Prosecutors agreed that some, though not all, of the victims were former prostitutes but claimed Patel targeted them for assault because of their occupations. “He chose prostitutes because he believed they were unlikely to go to the police,” Flammer said.
One victim, an 18-year-old woman from Delaware, testified Patel picked her up and offered to give her a ride to a bus station. She said that, after he locked the doors and pulled a gun, she escaped by jumping from the moving van. She was then picked up by a NJ Transit bus. The bus driver said in court the girl told her “someone tried to rape her.” The victim required hospital treatment for a serious wound to her head and abrasions to her body from hitting the pavement.
The most recent victim, a 21-year-old woman from Camden County, said Patel told her to get in his van as he impersonated an undercover detective, using a security badge from a former job he held as a private contractor with the Federal Aviation Administration. Patel threatened the woman with the imitation gun and sexually assaulted her in the back of his vehicle.
Patel was, by that time, already under investigation in connection with a series of similar sexual assaults. Atlantic City police officers saw the victim fleeing Patel’s van and approached her. She hysterically told them a gunman had sexually assaulted her.
Patel was pulled over a short time later and arrested. Police obtained DNA evidence linking him to the victim.
Prior to Patel's indictment in May, investigators found his E-ZPass and cell phone records corroborated the victims’ testimony. Prosecutors said several victims individually identified Patel as their attacker, either through a photo lineup or by seeing his photo in the media.
Jurors, after nearly eight hours of deliberation, found Patel guilty of 22 of 34 offenses, including multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault, attempted sexual assault, possession of an imitation firearm, impersonating a law enforcement officer and making terroristic threats. He was convicted of one count each of attempted robbery and criminal restraint.
After the verdict, Patel’s bail was revoked and he was remanded into custody. He faces a maximum penalty of life in state prison. Patel will be sentenced after completing an evaluation at a diagnostic and treatment center for convicted sex offenders.