File photo of Cornell police, who conducted the investigation.

Ithaca, N.Y. — A female Cornell student was walking home alone from Collegetown when she heard the footsteps behind her.

It was about 1:45 a.m. on Sept. 2, 2012. The footsteps grew louder as the woman walked by the Hughes parking lot. She kept walking.

“I suddenly felt someone’s arms grab me around the waist,” the sophomore would later tell police. “…He locked his arms around my waist like a bear hug.”

The man tried pulling the student into the nearby woods. She hit him with her bag of shoes several times and screamed as loudly as she could. He managed to pull her at least 10 feet over the period of about a minute.

But the woman, 19, got help: Two brothers in the Delta Upsilon fraternity were nearby. As the fraternity brothers rushed to help her, the assailant turned and ran in the other direction.

It would be more than two years before charges were brought against the man. Cornell announced Friday that Christopher Duenas, a former law student at the university, has pleaded guilty to six separate charges in Ithaca City Court. (Police documents filed since in court provide the basis for the above account of the attack.)

Duenas, 26, pleaded guilty to two accounts of attempted assault in the third degree, two accounts of unlawful imprisonment in the second degree and two accounts of criminal obstruction of breathing, according to the university.

Duenas, of San Diego, was arrested near the California-Mexico border on Jan. 14. Police say that they used DNA evidence to link Duenas to the attacks. Duenas has not been affiliated with the university since 2012.

File photo of a Cornell police car. Cornell police conducted the investigation.

Cornell Police Chief Kathy Zoner said the delay from the incident to the arrest was primarily due to the amount of time it takes to work with and analyze DNA evidence.

Court documents also provide more information about the second attack police have tied to Duenas.

The following account is based on court documents as well:

At about 3:30 a.m. in the same early morning hours, a second victim was walking alone on the Fall Creek Gorge trail when she was “grabbed from behind and knocked to the ground,” she later told police.

“I was trying to scream and he put his hand over my mouth. He was choking me, but I don’t remember if he was using his arm or his hand around my neck. I kept fighting him. He was laying on top of me,” the victim, an 18 year old Cornell student, told police.

“I’m not sure if he made penetration with me or not, as I was trying so hard to fight him off.”

It took about three to four minutes for the woman to escape, she said. She somehow got away and ran across the bridge.

The victim ran home. A friend tried to console her and then called police.

“I sat down in the shadows, trying to regain my composure, not sure what to do,” the victim said.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.