HOUSTON - A man whom investigators claim is a serial rapist appeared before a judge in the Harris County Criminal Courthouse.
Herman Whitfield, 43, did not say a word as he stood before the judge. He has been linked to 21 sexual assaults in the Sunnyside area of southeast Houston, but the district attorney's office is charging him in four cases. Whitfield, who is currently serving a 30-year sentence for a kidnapping charge in 1994, was asked to think about settling.
Those in the courtroom could hear the judge speaking to the defendant.
"Because of the sensitive nature of the case, this would be a very hard trial for the victims to go through," said Harris County Judge Jan Krocker. "Prosecutors want to take this to trial, so think about whether you want to settle."
According to investigators, Whitfield would stalk his victims in the Sunnyside area where he lived and would watch them walk to and from school. Police also said Whitfield would use weapons or choke his victims.
Three of the victims were students at the time and one was only 12 years old.
In 2013, two DNA matches were discovered through the Combined DNA Index System. Detectives then found two other cases in the same area, which they linked to Whitfield.
Since April 2014, rape kits linked Whitfield to the additional 17 cases. That brought the total number to 21. The district attorney's office said there will not be a plea deal.
The sexual assaults date back to the early 1990s. They happened on trails, in bushes, vacant lots and in vacant houses. Women in the Sunnyside neighborhood are relieved that more cases could be cleared but will remain careful.
"So much happening in our neighborhood and everywhere that I just don't let my guard down," said resident Val Taylor. "I'm happy but then there's so much crime going on."
"First, I believe in God to protect me. I (have) lived here for seven years now," said resident Maria McCary. "There (are) a lot of people who say it is not safe. I feel safe."
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