Alleged serial rapist pleads 'not guilty' 

A transient suspected of a violent string of sexual assaults that terrorized a South San Francisco neighborhood appeared in court to face more than two dozen felony charges Thursday.

Raul Gutierrez Contreras, 28, an auto shop worker, appeared before a judge in a red jail suit to enter a not-guilty plea through an interpreter. Contreras, who stands about 5 feet 6 inches, weighs 160 pounds and has a shaved head and goatee, is being held on $500,000 bail.

Prosecutors officially added 20 more felony charges Thursday from two rapes in 2006, in addition to attempted rape charges stemming from an attack in the bathroom of a South San Francisco business on Feb. 8. He is faced with 26 total charges. Conclusive DNA evidence links Contreras to a portion of the charges, according to Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. The new charges include sexual battery and rape, along with a separate misdemeanor charge of drunken driving.

Wagstaffe did not specify which cases involved DNA evidence. Prosecutors are still investigating whether Contreras is linked to other sexual assaults in South San Francisco over the last 14 months, he said.

Described as a vagabond and a possible illegal immigrant, Contreras was arrested Feb. 12 after an anonymous tipster informed police that he was spotted at work with a cut above his left eye, as though he were in a scuffle.

On Feb. 8, Contreras allegedly attacked a 34-year-old woman at 6:30 a.m. as she was unlocking a door to a business on the 200 block of South Maple Avenue. He allegedly forced his way in and tried dragging her into a nearby bathroom before she escaped after fighting him off and cutting him, prosecutors say. Wagstaffe said the woman was not seriously injured but that she was emotionally distraught.

It was the latest in a string of incidents involving rapes and assaults on women — some during daylight hours — in an area spanning from Orange Memorial Park east to South Linden Avenue. The charges include a February 2006 rape on the 1500 block of Mission Road and a November 2006 rape on South Linden Avenue.

After the arrest was made, South San Francisco police Sgt. Joni Lee said Contreras "partially admitted" to the Feb. 8 assault but denied involvement in other incidents.

Contreras faces life in prison if convicted. His next court date is April 4 to set a preliminary hearing. Contreras’ attorney, Eric Hove, declined to comment.

bfoley@examiner.com

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