Suspect arrested in 20-year-old Visalia serial sex assault investigation

A 52-year-old Visalia man was arrested Wednesday as a suspect in a string of unsolved sexual assaults dating back to 1999.

Nick Duane Stane is accused of committing at least seven Visalia attacks from 1999 through 2002, Visalia Police Chief Jason Salazar and Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward announced during a press conference Thursday.

His alleged victims ranged in age from 17 to 41, with nearly all under the age of 20. Salazar said investigators used DNA evidence to link Stane, who also goes by the first name Nickey, to the assaults.

During the course of their investigation, detectives learned the assailant targeted younger women who were often walking alone. His method of attack was similar in each case — he’d use a black handgun, and tried to hide his face by wearing a sweatshirt with a hood tied tightly around his head, according to law enforcement.

The attacker would approach the victims from behind, using his gun to force them to a secluded place like an alley or behind buildings. He would fondle their breasts, force them to orally copulate him or masturbate in front of them, according to law enforcement.

DNA key to finding suspect

Over the years investigators had developed numerous suspects but all their leads went cold. It wasn’t until police were able to assemble a DNA profile, using evidence from the first attack, that they got a breakthrough.

That development happened just in time. Ward said the 10-year statute of limitations was set to expire on some of the cases. Law enforcement in 2009 filed an arrest warrant based on the DNA profile. But because they didn’t have a suspect yet, calling it a “John Doe” warrant.

Using the DNA profile, investigators poured through numerous genealogical databases. It was similar to the technique used to catch Joseph James DeAngelo, the person believed to be the Golden State Killer.

“It helped us to focus in scope and develop a new lead,” Salazar said.

Armed with new tool, police identified a possible suspect who they kept under surveillance. Salazar didn’t disclose how, but police obtained Stane’s DNA, matched it to the DNA they collected from the crime scene and it came back positive.

Salazar and Ward thanked the team of investigators for their diligence in solving the cold case crimes.

“This arrest is the culmination of 20 years of work to ensure that justice was ultimately served for the victims of these crimes,” Salazar said. “This suspect Nickey Stane committed horrific crimes on the females of this community and today he is in custody for those crimes.”

The District Attorney’s Office is charging Stane with eight felonies, including sexual battery by restraint, kidnapping to commit another crime, and attempted forcible oral copulation.

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Nickey Duane Stane Screenshot, Tulare County District Attorney
A Valley native, Robert has worked at The Fresno Bee since 1994, covering various topics including education, business and agriculture. He currently covers courts.