DNA from two unknown individuals also found in victim’s bed
Closing arguments wrap up in high profile rape trial
By Ann McAdams | May 19, 2021 at 4:18 PM EDT – Updated May 19 at 7:52 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Dramatic new details came out in court Wednesday in a high profile rape trial. A New Hanover County jury heard from the man accused of raping a young teacher in Wilmington 25 years ago. Prosecutors played the tape of Wayne Soller’s interrogation right after his arrest in 2019.
According to investigators, the rape happened in 1996 at the Park Place apartment complex near Independence Mall. The attacker broke in through the woman’s window while she was asleep in her bed. She said that she woke up with a strange man on top of her, who punched her in the face, put a pillow over her mouth to muffle her screams, and raped her.
The woman went to the hospital to have a rape kit done shortly after the assault, but that rape kit sat untested on an evidence shelf at the Wilmington Police Department for more than 20 years. North Carolina lawmakers approved funding in 2018 to test backlogged rape kits. The woman contacted Wilmington Police, requesting that her kit be tested, and authorities got a hit. The semen samples found in her body matched the DNA of Soller, a Florida man who’d had his DNA entered into a national database after a scuffle with police in 2014.
In court Wednesday, Wilmington Police Detective Kenneth Engeldrum testified that when he and another officer went to Florida to arrest Soller with the assistance of US Marshals, Soller cooperated, and spoke to them at length without an attorney present. Under cross examination, Det. Engledrum said that Soller knew he was under arrest for something that happened in Wilmington back in 1996, but at the beginning of the interrogation, police told him it had to do with a break-in. It wasn’t until well into that interview that Soller learned he was the prime suspect in a woman’s rape. In court, defense attorney Steven Wright also highlighted that Wilmington Police detectives assigned to the case fed Soller information they did not know to be true in hopes of eliciting a confession.
Specifically, in the interrogation detectives told Soller that his DNA was “all over” the woman’s apartment. In fact, tests showed the DNA was in and on her body, and on the bottom of her night shirt, but it was not found elsewhere in the apartment. Neither were Soller’s fingerprints. According to Soller’s defense attorney, the state crime lab found DNA evidence from two other individuals other than Soller in the woman’s bedding. He said they did not try to track down those individuals, but unfairly zeroed in on Soller instead.
Soller insisted throughout his post-arrest interrogation he was never in the woman’s apartment.
Soller was staying at a neighboring apartment in Park Place with a man he was doing short-term contracting work with after a 1996 hurricane. He admitted to police that they’d “met some girls” and he’d had a one night stand. But Soller said he had sex with a woman in a van, and never went into anyone else’s apartment. He could not remember the woman’s name, or what she looked like, adding that it happened a long time ago.
Det. Engeldrum also testified that when he showed pictures of Soller to the woman who claims she was raped, the woman did not recognize him. A DNA analyst testified that the semen found in the woman’s body undoubtedly belonged to Soller. He insists the sex was consensual.
“I am not a rapist,” an exasperated Soller can be heard saying on the interrogation tape. “I’m not that kind of guy,” he added, noting that he was a married father of five when he says the consensual one night stand happened.
Attorneys for both sides wrapped closing arguments Wednesday evening. Prosecutors insist they have the right guy charged in this crime, but dropped one of the charges against Soller from first degree rape to second degree rape Wednesday. Jury deliberations expected to begin Thursday morning.
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