Suspect charged in Billings home-invasion rapes

2013-08-26T09:37:00Z 2014-04-02T12:33:15Z Suspect charged in Billings home-invasion rapesBy GREG TUTTLE gtuttle@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Bond was set at $1 million Monday for a man police and prosecutors believe is responsible for a series of home-invasion rapes that spread fear in the Billings community for months.

Toby Eugene Griego, 41, appeared by video in Yellowstone County Justice Court on 26 felony and three misdemeanor charges related to the rapes of two women in their homes in May and July.

Judge Larry Herman set the bond after a prosecutor described Griego's lengthy criminal history and said the former New Mexico resident and registered sex offender could face additional charges for four other similar crimes in Billings dating to January. 

Deputy County Attorney Juli Pierce described how Billings police detectives became aware of Griego through a tip that he had been following women at the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts store. The tip led detectives to begin a surveillance effort that revealed clues that led to his arrest. 

Pierce also provided a history of Griego's criminal past, which includes a 1997 conviction in New Mexico for a similar abduction and rape of a 16-year-old girl. Griego also has convictions in that state the following year for aggravated burglary, auto burglary and robbery. 

A public defender, Moira D'Alton, told the judge that she would stipulate to probable cause in the case and defer any bond argument. Herman set a tentative District Court arraignment date of Aug. 30, but Pierce said prosecutors could take up to 30 days to charge Griego because the investigation is ongoing and more charges are possible. 

Griego listened quietly and appeared bored as Herman read the 29 charges against him and explained the possible punishment, which could include multiple life sentences if Griego is convicted. 

When asked if he wanted a court-appointed attorney, Griego said he was working on hiring a private attorney.

The break in the case that has struck fear into many Billings residents and resulted in hundreds of area woman enrolling in self-defense programs was announced Monday morning at a news conference. 

At the conference, Billings Police Chief Rich St. John and Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito told reporters that Griego was arrested late last week.

To date, Griego is charged only with crimes related to the most recent break-ins and rapes on May 27 and July 2, but four earlier similar crimes dating to January remain under investigation. Griego is the primary suspect in those crimes, they said. 

Griego was charged with four counts of sexual intercourse without consent, five counts of felony robbery, four counts of aggravated kidnapping and two counts of intimidation.

Additional charges include eight counts of surreptitious visual observation or recording, two misdemeanor counts of surreptitious visual observation or recording, three felony drug possession charges and one misdemeanor drug possession charge.

Twito said Griego was arrested Friday at a residence on the 400 block of South 30th Street after Billings police were first alerted to his possible involvement in the rapes by a tip on July 15.

Twito said evidence connecting Griego to the crimes include deleted images found on his cellphone. None of the victims was able to provide a good description of their attacker, but prosecutors said one woman identified Griego's voice from a recording.

Prosecutors said photos of at least one victim at her residence in the days before the assault were also found on Griego's phone, and Griego worked for a mattress company and delivered mattresses to homes near the attacks.   

The crimes were made public in early July when Montana State University Billings put out an advisory to students warning that college-age women had been sexually assaulted. Billings police then announced the string of six recent home-invasion rapes and asked the public for help identifying a suspect. 

Charging documents provide horrific details of the two most recent crimes, as well as the effort by local law enforcement to build the case against Griego. 

Twito said Griego has been in Billings since 2008, and he has been a suspect in numerous lesser crimes, including purse snatching.

Griego was also a suspect in a case where he was believed to have attempted to take a photograph of a woman under a changing room door at a clothing store.

As part of their investigation, police detectives obtained a search warrant to attach a tracking device to Griego's vehicle, court records state. The tracking device and other surveillance methods revealed Griego was "casing" several locations where he sometimes stole from vehicles, including a downtown bar, church parking lots, residential streets and retail stores.   

The drug charges allege that officers searched Griego's residence at 425 S. 30th St., No. 2, on Aug. 22 and found in the attic 21.5 grams of marijuana, 63 methylphenidate pills, 31 dextroamphetamine pills and 14 Lorazepam pills.

Twito described the investigation as "very difficult and complicated."

The first in the string of home-invasion rapes and assaults occurred Jan. 2. Prosecutors said all six victims had light-colored or blond hair and a petite or athletic build. All victims have been between the ages of 18 and 30 years old, and each awoke to find an intruder in her bedroom, court records state.

In some of the cases, the intruder fled before committing any sexual assault "due to the victim's resistance and/or possible discovery," the court record state.

The 20-year-old victim of the May 27 rape told police she was at her apartment in the 700 block of Avenue E and went to sleep at about 10:30 p.m. She awoke to the sensation of being shocked, she said.

Police said the intruder used a Taser to subdue the woman and bound her with her own clothing. The man found the woman's handgun and threatened her, blindfolded her, choked her with a belt, struck her in the face and repeatedly raped her, including with a foreign object.

He also made the woman drink an entire bottle of wine and photographed her nude, court records state.

The man then forced the woman into her car and drove her to a bank on Grand Avenue to withdraw cash from an ATM. When the withdrawal failed, he drove her to another bank, where the woman tried to escape by running away. The man chased her down and tackled her in the parking lot, causing her to suffer a large cut on her head that was later treated with stitches.

The man then drove the woman back to her apartment and raped her again. He then forced the woman to take a shower before he left the apartment.

A 30-year-old Billings woman was the victim of the July 2 incident. She gave a similar account of awakening to a strange man in her bedroom.

The woman said she was bound with her own clothing and repeatedly raped, also including with a foreign object. The woman was also gagged and blindfolded and tied to the posts of her bed, court record state.

The woman said she could hear pictures being taken during the assault.

The woman was then driven to a bank and forced to withdraw cash. She was returned to the apartment and was sexually assaulted again before the man forced her to walk to a nearby canal, where her head was dunked into the water several times. The man also made the woman jump into the water, then returned her to the apartment.

The woman said she was forced to take a shower, then was tied again to the bed and hit with some kind of "rubber flogging" device, court records state. The man also said he was bored and threatened to kill her. He also forced her to shower before he left the apartment.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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