Evidence destroyed in case involving accused ‘serial rapist’

Victim speaks out, District Attorney launches investigation

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A New Mexico woman says she was victimized twice; first by the man she claims raped her and a second time by the justice system.

Crucial evidence in her case was destroyed. So how could that happen? The woman shared her story with KRQE News 13.

“I felt it in my gut, something was gonna happen,” Amanda Bryand recalled.

That night four years ago still haunts the 21-year-old. KRQE News 13 normally doesn’t identify victims in rape cases, but Amanda wants people to see her face and hear her story.

“It’s been very hard, but I mean if all us victims could come together, we could put this guy in jail, we could get some amount of justice,” she said.

Justice is something she’s been waiting for for years.

Eli Kronenanker, Rape Suspect

Amanda was a 17-year-old high school student when she said she started getting text messages from a guy claiming to have a mutual friend. Thinking she was chatting with someone her age, Amanda said she eventually agreed to meet him.

That’s when things took a turn.

“Whenever I got into the car, I was like, whoa. I mean he definitely wasn’t 18, he was much older,” she explained.

Amanda said the man police later identified as Eli Kronenanker, locked her in his car and drove her to his Albuquerque home.

Then, Amanda said he dragged her out of the car by her hair and took her inside his home, where she claims he raped her at gunpoint.

“I felt numb, I felt like I was overpowered, like I was never – my life was over at that point,” Amanda told KRQE News 13.

She said he threatened to kill her if she told anyone, then dropped her off on her street where she said he made her walk home as he followed behind in his car.

Amanda eventually told her parents and went to the police.

“They did do a rape kit,” she explained.

Amanda handed over her clothing to investigators, text messages, interviewed with detectives, and was assigned a prosecutor under former District Attorney, Kari Brandenburg.

Although he was charged with rape, records show Kronenanker wasn’t arrested for it right away.

“He told me to drop the charges or he was gonna go after my family too,” Amanda said.

Kronenanker was arrested months later, after Amanda told police he showed up at her house and “hit her with a closed fist,” threatening her once again. However, records show Kronenanker bonded out of jail the same day.

Court records also show two months after his arrest, the District Attorney’s office decided not to move forward with the case.

Amanda had no idea her case was going nowhere.

“We actually found out online,” she said. “We didn’t get a letter, we didn’t get a phone call.”

She said she lived in fear. Still, she found the courage to speak up.

“What’s really given me my strength is knowing that there are other victims out there,” said Amanda.

That became clear, she said, in 2015, when a woman she’s never met came forward with a case all too familiar.

This time, Eli Kronenanker is accused of kidnapping and raping a young woman police said he met online and started texting.

According to a criminal complaint, the woman has “developmental delays,” but she described in detail a violent attack, and led detectives right to Kronenanker’s home; the same home Amanda said he took her to.

In the 2015 case, investigators said they also matched Kronenanker with the phone number used to contact the woman.

He was arrested and again, posted bond.

Amanda returned to the District Attorney’s office to meet with her prosecutor.

“We found out he had another victim so I was like, this is my chance to get it going again,” she told KRQE News 13.

Instead, she discovered a bombshell.

“A lot of my evidence was destroyed,” Amanda said.

She learned photos, DNA evidence, witness statements that made her case, were all gone.

Timeline according to records obtained by KRQE News 13:

May 14, 2013: Amanda is interviewed by detectives.
September 10, 2013: Amanda reports to police Kronenanker is stalking, threatening her.
September 11, 2013: Kronenanker is arrested.
September 11, 2013: Kronenanker posts $50,000 cash or surety bond.
November 13, 2013: DA decides not to prosecute Amanda’s case; four felony counts to include Kidnapping, Rape, Intimidation of a Witness, and Aggravated Stalking charges are converted to nolle prosequi.
June 2, 2015: DNA returned match for unknown male on Amanda’s clothing.
June 16, 2015: Prosecutor with DA office sent a letter to dispose of evidence.
July 16, 2015: Second woman reports rape to police.
October 23, 2015: Detectives identify suspect as Eli Kronanker.
November 9, 2015: Warrant issued for Kronenanker’s arrest; charged with Rape and Kidnapping.
November 10, 2015: Bond set at $50,000 cash or surety.
November 10, 2015: Kronenanker posts bond.
March 2016: DNA results return a match for Kronenanker in Amanda’s case.
November 14, 2016: Kronenaker’s bond exonerated in the second case.

Amanda was crushed.

“It hurt my feelings a lot to know that they didn’t review my case the way they should have originally,” she explained. “And it’s not fair. I’m the one that’s had all the consequences for everything that he did to me.”

She and her mom now wish to spark change in how these cases are handled through the justice system and bring awareness to the community.

Amanda isn’t giving up. She recently introduced herself at a rally to newly elected District Attorney, Raúl Torrez, and shared her story with him. Her hope was that a fresh look might bring forth some justice in her case.

True to his word, Torrez did take another look at her case.

“I assigned the case to one of the new senior attorneys that I brought into the office when I took over in January,” Torrez told KRQE News 13.

“I actually had that senior prosecutor go down to the evidence lock up and look in the box to see exactly what was available to us,” said Torrez.

He shared his disturbing discovery with Amanda, then sat down with KRQE News 13.

“The thing that was frankly shocking to her and shocking to me is the fact that evidence in this case had been destroyed at the direction of this office,” Torrez explained. “And because of that decision, we aren’t able to move forward with the case.”

Two years after Amanda came forward to police, someone under former District Attorney Kari Brandenburg’s office gave the go-ahead to destroy crucial evidence.

That key evidence was destroyed before DNA lab results would eventually match Kronenanker to DNA on Amanda’s clothing.

“It eliminated the ability, for example, for the defense attorney to go and conduct their own independent DNA analysis,” Torrez explained. “Because once that original fabric or garment is destroyed, they lost that ability.”

“For us to be in a position where we can’t move forward because of mistakes that happened in this office, is unacceptable,” said Torrez.

KRQE News 13 called former DA Kari Brandenburg. She told KRQE News 13 over the phone she had no idea how this happened and doesn’t have access to case files that might provide the answer.

Torrez is trying to piece it all together, launching an internal investigation.

When asked how evidence was authorized for destruction in Amanda’s case, Torrez replied, “There’s an investigation underway in this office. Even though this decision occurred two years ago, we’re going to get to the bottom of how that decision was made.”

Torrez assured his office will “make sure that there are protocols in place that this doesn’t happen again.”

In Kronenanker’s more recent rape case, detectives stated, “Eli not only appears to be a threat to the community, but to the victim…and appears to be displaying a pattern as a serial rapist.”

It’s a chilling thought as Amanda keeps an eye on Kronanker’s latest charges.

“I am more than willing to fight for justice,” said Amanda. “But if that can’t happen on my case, I would really like for it to happen on this other victim’s case.”

“The commitment that I made to Amanda and her mother is that we’re going to do better,” Torrez told KRQE News 13.

“I made a promise to {Amanda}, I made a promise to her mother, that we’re going to learn from this experience, and that my administration is going to focus a lot more time, energy and effort on these types of cases,” Torrez said. “We owe people like Amanda more.”

Kronenanker’s second rape case will be two years old in July, and there’s still no trial date set. He remains free.

This week the DA announced a new initiative, the Victims Services Alliance. Volunteers will help the DA’s office better communicate with crime victims, and help keep them in the loop as their cases wind their way through the justice system.

Learning about the sequence of events in her case after the fact was upsetting to Amanda. She wonders if the other woman’s case could have been prevented, had her own case been handled correctly.

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