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Suspect in East Coast rapes held on $1.5M bail

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The man suspected of sexually assaulting at least 17 women from Virginia to Rhode Island asked, "Why haven't you picked me up sooner?" when he was arrested last week, a prosecutor said Monday in court.

Aaron Thomas, 39, made his first court appearance in New Haven Superior Court in Connecticut, wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap. The man responsible for the attacks has been dubbed the East Coast Rapist by authorities.

Prosecutor David Strollo said the unemployed truck driver described himself as having "a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" personality regarding women. Strollo said Thomas made incriminating statements about his involvement in the rapes to a marshal.

Thomas' public defender, Joe Lopez, said he had attempted to waive his client's appearance at the court hearing, which a judge denied. Lopez declined to comment afterward. Bail was set at $1.5 million.

Strollo said DNA from a cigarette that police saw Thomas discard after leaving a local court was used to confirm that Thomas was the man wanted in the attacks, which began in 1997. He said Thomas has lived in New Haven for about four years.

Thomas was arrested Friday on Connecticut charges of first-degree sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor. He tried to hang himself Saturday in his cell but was returned to jail after a brief hospital stay.

The East Coast Rapist is wanted for 17 rapes and other attacks in Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island and Virginia that began in 1997.

Authorities recently put up electronic billboards in the states where the attacks occurred and neighboring states, and they said a tip from Prince William County, Va., directed them to Thomas. Authorities in Prince William County are charging him with rape, abduction, being a fugitive and using of a firearm while committing a felony.

Thomas had lived previously in Maryland and Virginia, according to public records.