'Suitcase rapist' pleads guilty in New Orleans and sentenced to 45 years _lowres

Michael Lee Jones

A serial rapist who sexually assaulted two women in New Orleans more than a decade ago pleaded guilty to local charges Friday.

Michael Lee Jones, who according to prosecutors became known as “the suitcase rapist” after shoving a Florida rape victim into his luggage, was sentenced to 45 years in prison under the terms of a plea agreement.

Jones, 42, was previously convicted in Florida and Colorado after a private investigator persuaded him to provide a DNA sample.

The first New Orleans rape happened in May 2003, when Jones picked up a woman who had been visiting the city for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Prosecutors said the woman had been looking for a cab before dawn one morning near Esplanade Avenue and Burgundy Street when Jones offered her a ride and drove her to a secluded area.

The second rape happened about a month later at a bar in the 3800 block of Tulane Avenue. Prosecutors said Jones again offered a woman a ride and then raped her at knifepoint in an “unknown location.”

Investigators recovered DNA evidence in both rapes that showed the same man was responsible, but Jones’ genetic profile was not yet known to law enforcement, said Christopher Bowman, a spokesman for District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.

A private investigator in Miami used surveillance video from a hotel Jones was staying in there to identify him as a suspect in the rape of a cruise worker beaten into a coma there in February 2005.

“At 5 a.m., surveillance video showed the suspected perpetrator leaving the hotel carrying a large suitcase that it is believed was carrying the victim,” Bowman said in a news release. “Because of the severity of the beating that she suffered, she could remember almost nothing about the crime.”

Bowman said the private investigator managed to link Jones to a boat convention that was being held in Miami at the time of the rape and later tracked him down in Virginia, where Jones denied involvement in the rape and gave the investigators a sample of his DNA.

“In the Florida rape,” Bowman said, “the defendant was wearing a condom, but unbeknownst to him, the condom had broken in the encounter.”

The DNA linked Jones to the Miami case, and he later pleaded guilty there to one count of sexual battery with a weapon and aggravated battery, Bowman said. The case had been complicated by the victim’s lack of memory, Bowman said, and Jones received two years in prison in that case under the terms of a plea agreement.

Jones’ DNA was uploaded into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, which identified him as the rapist in the New Orleans cases in addition to a similar sexual assault that happened in 2005 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Colorado case was tried in 2009, after the victim had died. Jones was sentenced to 24 years to life in that case.

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