AUSTIN (KXAN) - While Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said there is a predator who is no longer among the community, he was reluctant to say early Friday morning that Esme Barrera's murder case is solved.
"We have enough information, enough evidence, to make our suspect a prime suspect, but we haven't taken it all the way home," said Acevedo on KXAN News Today. "I'm pretty confident that we've got the person with the strong likelihood that will end up being the suspect."
The big break in the case -- announced Thursday night -- came when police confirmed there was a prime suspect in the New Year's Day killing. That man, 25-year-old James Loren Brown, died from an apparent suicide on Jan. 12.
"But whether or not he's alive to face trial, we want to make sure we can positively, undoubtedly, beyond a reasonable doubt demonstrate to the Barrera family and her neighbors that this is the guy that killed her," said Acevedo.
And while Barrera's murder and several assaults have terrified the North Campus neighborhood for weeks, police have not said whether those incidents are connected. They are also tight-lipped about the evidence found at Barrera's home following the murder.
"I don't want to talk specifically about what the evidence is there. I can just tell you that based on the location of the crimes, based on the descriptions, based on a lot of the totality of the evidence in this case and the facts in this case, he is the prime suspect," said Acevedo, referring to the Barrera case.
Police are still processing a lot of other evidence, including DNA and Brown's electronics -- in addition to investigating the restaurant he worked at in an effort to recreate his activities to get a full picture of what he was up to.
"We're hopeful that when it's all said and done, that through science and other methods, we'll be able to close this case," said Acevedo.
Acevedo attributed the time gap between the suicide and naming the suspect to the extensive DNA testing process.
"It takes a while to do, but that was a priority," said Acevedo. "I'm very proud of our scientists at the crime lab."
The DNA evidence gathered at Brown's home following his suicide got back to police on Jan. 20, eight days after police found his body.
On Wednesday, DNA scientists positively linked Brown to an attack in the 300 block of East 31st Street -- which happened several hours after Barrera's murder only blocks away. The DNA found at that attack matched several assaults that happened in South Austin last summer, to which Brown has also been linked.
And though Brown's DNA has not been linked to Barrera's murder, the other DNA matches have placed the community more at ease.
"I slept a lot better last night knowing that this suspect is no longer amongst us," said Acevedo. "If for nothing else, we know that we have a man that's been tied, definitively, without a doubt, on DNA evidence to four assaults with women. And so we know that he's a predator, and he's no longer amongst us. And we're happy for the women of Austin."
As for the Barrera murder, police will continue their diligence in the investigation.
"We don't want to just assume it's him," said Acevedo. "We want to look at everything because when you start making assumptions, you make mistakes. We want our investigators to continue to look at every angle until we get that final piece of evidence that can prove to us and to Esme's family and friends that we've got the right guy."
And that would bring an end to what has been an excruciating hunt for answers for the Barrera family.
"Being a parent, I'm sure they're thankful that they may be getting closure soon," said Acevedo.
Searches for Brown's criminal record so far have turned up nothing.
"But you know, the human condition is a very fragile condition. And you never know when people can snap," said Acevedo, adding that Brown was a very troubled man.
"Bottom line is that we know what he was up to, and he lived very close to Esme [Barrera]. We think we have a good suspect."
Detectives on Jan. 12 responded to the 3000 block of Guadalupe Street after Brown's roommate returned home from a holiday break and found him dead.
A preliminary investigation found no apparent reason for the suicide, but detectives did note the home was a short distance from the 3100 block of King Street. That's where Barrera was murdered and also where the other assault happened in the same block.
A picture of Brown at his home resembled the composite sketch circulated following Barrera's death, and authorities also concluded Brown had a similar physical build.
"Our homicide detective and our crime scene person, they started looking around, looking at him, looking at the description, his physical description, his physical appearance, his location, proximity to Esme," said Acevedo. "They started thinking, ‘Hey, this man might be a suspect.'"
Detectives returned to Brown's home the next day and confiscated several items, and a positive DNA match came 12 days later.
As for the attack that happened in the same
block as Barrera's murder 30 minutes before the killing, police said circumstances of the serial attacks from July and September 2011 are similar.
Investigators are re-interviewing people from similar assault cases to see if Brown was connected to those as well. They said they don't have a motive for the crimes yet but hope to learn more about Brown as the investigation continues.
Brown was a Navy veteran who had lived in Austin for a year and a half. He lived at the home where police found him since July.
"If it's not him, whoever it is, I just hope we catch him," said Acevedo.
Detectives ask anyone who saw or had contact with Brown on New Year's Eve or during the early part of January 2012 to call the Homicide Tip Line at (512) 477-3588.
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