NORMAN — The Cleveland County District Attorney’s office on Thursday filed 19 felony charges ranging from first-degree burglary to first-degree rape against a former OU student who police say confessed to raping fellow students over a 15-year period.
District Attorney Greg Mashburn filed 10 counts of first-degree burglary, five counts of first-degree rape, three counts of sexual battery and one count of forcible oral sodomy against Robert Howard Bruce, a Colorado prison inmate who lived in Norman while he was a student at OU in the early 1980s.
Prosecutors say Bruce confessed to 14 Norman assaults that occurred between 1985 and 2001, many in the southeast part of the city. They were able to confirm most of them by reviewing old reports.
Police allege he selected victims at random and often used chloroform to knock them out before the assault. Bruce is suspected of a consistent method of breaking into windows and adjusting thermostats, according to probable cause affidavits.
Bruce is suspected of assaults on women on Drake Drive, South Flood Avenue, Harvard Drive, Donna Drive, Biloxi Drive, Deonne Circle, Kenwood Drive, Page Circle, Manor Drive and Canterbury Avenue.Though Bruce is now a suspect in several of Norman’s previously unsolved crimes, Norman Police Det. Jim Parks said it took a long time before he could even find a suspect.
“It wasn’t until almost the end of ’09 when we finally got CODIS hits letting us know that we had a suspect down in Colorado whose DNA matched,” Parks said.
CODIS, short for Combined DNA Index System, tied Bruce’s DNA to incidences that occurred not only in Norman, but also in Albuquerque, N.M., and in Austin and Lubbock, Texas.
Though Bruce is now incarcerated in Colorado after he was sentenced to six years for sexual assault, 24 years for burglary, 64 years for trying to kill a police officer and five years for possession of an explosive/incendiary device, the district attorney’s office said this is only a small hurdle in prosecuting Bruce.
Assistant District Attorney James Siderias said Cleveland County will have to file for a formal extradition of Bruce, though it could take 45 to 60 days for Colorado to transfer him. Ultimately, Siderias said, Bruce’s trial is not going to begin until the passage of several months to one year. The defendant also has a right to a preliminary hearing if he wants one.
Siderias said his office will approach this case “just like any other case.”
“They (the women) have a right to closure and knowing who assaulted them and violated them in this way,” Siderias said. “As long as we can accomplish that for these people, we’ll be happy.”
The assistant district attorney said the counts of rape could lead to sentences up to life imprisonment, though he said his ultimate goal is to protect the Norman community.
“We are not going to be satisfied unless we know that there is not an opportunity for this man to hurt other people in his lifetime,” Siderias said. “That’s what we’re going to seek in our sentence — that he doesn’t have an opportunity to do this again.”
Joel Pruett 366-3540 email@example.com