The man authorities believe is the East Coast Rapist made his first appearance in a Virginia court Wednesday, after he was extradited from Connecticut.


Judge Scott Bailey read 40-year-old Aaron H. Thomas, who appeared via a video hookup, the eight charges he faces in Prince William County.

Thomas is charged in an attack on three teenage girls in Dale City on Halloween night 2009. Officials suspect he is responsible for up to 17 attacks along the East Coast between 1997 and 2009.

Thomas, who kept his head down during the brief hearing in Manassas, only spoke quietly to say he didn't understand the charges and wanted a court-appointed attorney. He wouldn't elaborate when Bailey asked him what he didn't understand.

He was arrested in his hometown of New Haven, Conn., in March after a tipster in Prince George's County called Crime Solvers. His DNA was then matched to DNA found at crime scenes, prosecutors say. Thomas was extradited to Virginia on Tuesday.

Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert said he wanted to try Thomas in the county because "the cases that happened in this jurisdiction are particularly heinous cases."

Thomas is charged with two counts of rape, three counts of use of a firearm, three counts of abduction with intent to defile. He could face up to five life sentences if convicted.

In the Prince William case, authorities say he accosted three teenage trick-or-treaters at gunpoint, raping two 17-year-old girls. A third victim, a 16-year-old girl, was able to send a text message for help to her mother from her cell phone. The attacker fled as police approached.

The teenagers are expected to testify against Thomas, Ebert said.

Thomas had been held in Connecticut, where he was accused of raping a woman in her apartment with her 11-month-old son in the room. Ebert said he talked "at length" with New Haven prosecutors about the decision to extradite.

Thomas will not be returned to Connecticut if he is sentenced to 60 or more years behind bars in Virginia.

Ronald Fahy, the attorney appointed to represent Thomas in Virginia, could not be reached for comment.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 25.