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Suspect in Willmar, Minn., rape is also charged in Texas homicide

WILLMAR -- A 21-year-old Texas man charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct for the July 29 sexual assault of a teenage girl in Willmar is also charged with capital murder for the August 2011 killing of an elderly woman in Tulia, Texas.

Esequiel Gomez Jr. made his first appearance Monday on the felony sex charge before District Judge Michael J. Thompson in Kandiyohi County District Court in Willmar. Thompson set unconditional bail at $1 million during the arraignment hearing.

Gomez, who is held in the Kandiyohi County Jail, is scheduled to make his next court appearance Oct. 15.

According to information from Kandiyohi County Attorney Jenna Fischer, the 14-year-old girl in the Willmar case identified Gomez as her alleged attacker in a photo line-up prepared by Willmar police.

She also submitted to a sexual assault examination at Rice Memorial Hospital. The DNA recovered from her person was sent to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and then was entered into the nationwide database of crime scene DNA.

According to the Tulia Police Department, the Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Lab linked DNA evidence collected from the scene of the murder of Imogene Harris to the DNA collected in the sexual assault investigation in Willmar.

Harris, 84, was found dead in her residence on Aug. 14, 2011, in Tulia, Texas, in Swisher County in the northern panhandle of the state. The cause of death was blunt force trauma.

In addition to the Harris murder, Texas investigators have linked Gomez to another crime, the assault of an elderly person in Hico, Texas, in June 2008.

Gomez was apprehended in Randall County, Texas, in mid-August and was extradited to Minnesota to face the criminal sexual conduct charge here.

Texas officials found the DNA link to the murder case while Gomez was in transit north to Minnesota, according to Willmar Police Chief David Wyffels. When Gomez arrived last week in Willmar, he was interviewed by two Willmar Police Department detectives and allegedly confessed to the local rape and to the murder in Texas, Wyffels said.

When asked by Judge Thompson during the court hearing Monday to speak specifically about the conditions of release, Gomez politely responded to the judge. "There's nothing I have to say about that sir," Gomez said. "I just ask that ... not to make me look like a monster."

According to the criminal sexual conduct complaint, the 14-year-old girl reported she had been sexual assaulted around 2 a.m. July 29 in the area of the walking bridge near High Avenue Northeast in Willmar.

A Willmar police officer had encountered and identified Gomez in the nearby park at Robbins Island about an hour before police were called about the sexual assault.

The girl and another individual told police that Gomez was wearing a fishing hat and carrying a fishing pole.

"It's a good thing that our officer had contact with him (Gomez) in Robbins Island," Wyffels said. Along with noting the information about the fishing hat and pole, the officer's information was used to include Gomez in the photo line-up, from which the girl identified Gomez as her alleged assailant.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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