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How used chewing tobacco linked a man to a violent rape

Crime Watch

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This story contains details of a sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.

VICTOR — Discarded chewing tobacco gave Teton County Sheriff’s detectives enough evidence to arrest the man they say violently raped a woman two years ago in a city park.

Court documents obtained by detail what led to the arrest of 31-year-old Chet K. Neilson and the disturbing events during the early morning hours of Aug. 4, 2017. Neilson is charged with felony rape, felony battery and a felony enhancement of infliction of great bodily injury.

RELATED | Man charged with violently raping woman in park being held on $250,000 bond

Neilson allegedly attacked the 26-year-old victim after she left the Knotty Pine Bar around 1 a.m. She walked to the Victor City Park, where she had parked her bike while attending Music on Main.

“The assailant grabbed (her) by the mouth and over the nose and told her not to make any noise. The assailant pushed (the victim) south into the fenced-in area near a baseball bench,” an affidavit of probable cause states. “The assailant forced (the victim) onto the ground on her stomach. The assailant did this while keeping his hand over her mouth and repeatedly telling her to be quiet or he would kill her.”

Neilson is accused of plugging the victim’s nose and mouth so she could not breathe. He used his other hand to grope her breasts, according to court documents.

“She knew she would suffocate if she did not stop screaming and struggled to get away,” court documents state.

Investigators say Neilson then removed the victim’s clothes and raped her. At one point, she recalled “blacking out,” and the next thing she remembered was him getting off her body before he ran away.

“(The victim) said the assailant removed her NuvaRing – a birth control device worn in a woman’s vagina. (She) found the NuvaRing on the grass near her feet. She collected it and placed it in her pocket,” court documents state.

The woman contacted the Teton County Sheriff’s Office and went to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson, Wyoming, for a sexual assault exam. The NuvaRing was examined and secured as evidence.

The victim did not know who her attacker was, but she described him as a Caucasian male in his mid-20s to mid-30s. He was wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt, had no facial hair and had a “buzz cut” type haircut.

Evidence from the sexual assault exam was sent to the Idaho State Police Forensic Lab, and investigators obtained multiple samples of the suspect’s sperm from the NuvaRing and parts of her body.

Two years later, on Saturday, Teton County Sheriff Detective Sgt. Andrew Foster received a lead identifying Neilson as a possible suspect. Court documents do not indicate what that lead was.

Around 6 a.m. on Tuesday, Foster, along with Idaho State Police and the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, began a surveillance operation to collect a DNA sample from Neilson. Investigators were successful in obtaining used chewing tobacco spit from Neilson’s mouth.

The sample was sent to the ISP Forensic lab for testing, and on Thursday, Foster received the results.

“The sperm cell sample from the sex assault kit matched the DNA sample obtained from Chet Neilson. This DNA profile is at least 163 octillion times more likely to be seen if Chet Neilson is the source than if an unrelated individual randomly selected from the general population is the source,” court documents say.

Neilson was arrested Friday morning as he arrived at work in Teton County. He was transferred to the Madison County Jail, where Teton County inmates are held. He appeared for his initial court hearing Friday morning, and Judge Jason Walker set bail at $250,000.

Neilson is scheduled for a preliminary hearing Sept. 4.