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Suspect Faces 23 Charges in Ojai Area Assaults

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Prosecutors on Wednesday filed 23 charges against a Casitas Springs man, accusing him of multiple sexual assaults, residential burglary and the use of a deadly weapon in a series of attacks on women in the Ojai area.

Jason Edward Hawthorne, 21, a lanky man with short reddish-brown hair, appeared in Ventura County Municipal Court for arraignment, but the proceeding was postponed two weeks when a deputy public defender asked for more time to review the case.

Dressed in blue jail garb and a white T-shirt, Hawthorne showed little emotion as he stood in the doorway of a detention area, glancing around the full courtroom then casting his eyes toward the floor.

Hawthorne was taken into custody Saturday by Ventura County sheriff’s detectives investigating four sexual assaults that occurred between March and September, 1994.

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Deputy Public Defender Neil Quinn, who represented Hawthorne on Wednesday, said his client would plead not guilty at his arraignment Feb. 1.

Asked afterward about Hawthorne’s state of mind, Quinn said: “He’s charged with very serious charges and he’s scared. I think that’s obvious.”

Prosecutors also filed a motion Wednesday asking for hair samples from Hawthorne. Quinn said the request is routine in sexual assault cases, but asked for more time to read police reports before responding.

Hawthorne is being held in Ventura County Jail in lieu of $500,000. Quinn said he did not request a bail reduction because of the seriousness of the charges and because of Hawthorne’s inability to post a bond.

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Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Lela Henke-Dobroth declined to discuss the widely publicized case, as did Quinn. “We’re going to try the case in the courtroom where it belongs,” he said.

The charges filed by the district attorney’s office include five counts of residential burglary and numerous sexual battery and assault charges, as well as one count of forcible rape.

In addition, Hawthorne is charged with residential robbery, attempted residential burglary, the use of a deadly weapon, being armed with a weapon and causing great bodily injury. Hawthorne is suspected of using a knifelike object and a flashlight as weapons, Henke-Dobroth said.

Authorities have said that Hawthorne emerged as a suspect when the Sheriff’s Department began screening jail booking photographs for features that resembled the assailant’s.

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Detectives searched Hawthorne’s rented room Saturday and required him to take a blood test. The results of that test, and a second one completed Tuesday, failed to eliminate Hawthorne as the suspect, authorities said.

Prosecutors are now waiting for the results of DNA tests.

Hawthorne, who grew up in Oak View and graduated from Ventura High School, works at a print shop in El Rio. Many of those who know Hawthorne have insisted that he could not be the rapist.


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