Police: Sexual assault cold case cracked by new DNA technology


EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – East Providence Police say new DNA technology helped detectives solve a sexual assault case from 2013.

On Thursday, Steven Silvia, 30, faced a judge on a felony burglary charge stemming from an incident at a Warren Avenue home in October 2013.

At the time, a woman called police to say she had been groped by a man who broke into her home, according to Captain Bruce Kidman.

“The victim woke up to find herself being fondled by a male,” Kidman said. “She screamed, and she’s the one that chased the suspect out of the house.”

Kidman said the woman and Silvia did not know each other.

When the alleged crime occurred, Kidman said a man was caught on a nearby business’ surveillance video riding his bicycle up to the home, before circling it on foot. According to a police report obtained by Eyewitness News, the video then appears to show the suspect stepping onto something near a window at the side of the house.

“[He] is not seen again until approximately 30 minutes later, when he’s seen running out the front door,” Kidman said.

At the time, police recovered a bicycle from the scene and swabbed it for DNA, but there were multiple DNA samples on the handlebars.

Kidman said technology in 2013 didn’t allow them to separate the DNA profiles, but when detectives attended a homicide seminar last year, they learned that DNA testing had evolved. Detectives worked with the R.I. Department of Health to reanalyze the DNA.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said the process is called “mixture interpretation.” He said law enforcement has been sending more “touch” samples (versus blood or other bodily fluids) to have them analyzed in recent years.

A police report shows health officials used what’s called a “PowerPlex Fusion amplification kit,” and identified three samples on the bicycle, two of which were male.

Kidman said they ran the samples through state and local DNA databases last month and found Steven Silvia was a match. Police also believe Silvia was responsible for a string of “peeping Tom” and breaking and entering incidents around the same time and place.

Silvia is currently in prison for a 2014 burglary where he broke into a woman’s home while she was showering, Kidman said.

While the statute of limitations has run out for the 2013 sexual assault, Kidman said they will seek to have Silvia’s sentence extended if he’s convicted on the new burglary charge.

“We’re confident that we have the right man for this,” he said. “I absolutely believe this man does not belong walking on the streets.”

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