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VALPARAISO — Nearly 23 years after allegedly surprising a 60-year-old Valparaiso woman in her home by forcing her to the floor, wrapping duct tape around her eyes and hands, and then sexually assaulting her, Jaime Cordero appeared in court Friday for an initial hearing on a felony count of criminal deviate conduct.

The 55-year-old former Hammond man was charged with the offense in September 2012, but it was not until recently, following this year's change in administration at the county prosecutor's office, that it was discovered the case has yet to be pursued in court, according to Porter County Deputy Prosecutor Rebecca Buitendorp.

Despite the delay, Buitendorp had no problem getting Cordero to court Friday. He is currently locked up at Indiana State Prison in Michigan City on a criminal deviate conduct conviction and two burglary convictions from Lake County. His earliest possible release date is Nov. 8, 2034, according to online Indiana Department of Correction records.

He appeared Friday before Porter Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Clymer wearing the brown garb and shackles of a prison inmate.

Cordero was charged amid a rash of at least 12 similar sexual assault cases across the Region and Lansing, Illinois, according to court records. He was identified through a blood sample he allegedly left behind in a burglary in New Orleans.

The Valparaiso woman in the local case said she watered plants in her yard on Sept. 18, 1996, and went back in her house, where a man wearing a black ski mask grabbed her by the neck and head and forced her down, striking her head on the tile kitchen floor, according to charging information.

He then "proceeded to duct tape her hands behind her back and duct taped around her head over her eyes," police said.

The man forced her to disrobe and then sexually assaulted her before fleeing, after searching the house and being given the woman's purse, according to court documents.

The woman reportedly told police she gathered her clothing and ran to a neighbor's house. Responding officers found her with duct tape still around her head and around her right wrist, according to charging information.

The Porter County Sheriff's Department investigated, but closed the case in March 1997, after failing to find any new developments in identifying the attacker, according to court records. The case was reopened in March 2012, after a special task force was formed to investigate a rash of similar sexual assaults in Munster, Dyer, Lansing and Porter County.

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All the attacks occurred during the day in the victim's home, duct tape was used, similar sexual assaults were reported, and the offender "presented an almost polite demeanor in all of the assaults," according to charging documents.

Cordero was linked to the Valparaiso crime as a result of blood and DNA evidence linked to the investigation in New Orleans and a 2002 rape case in Munster, police said.

Buitendorp told the court Friday that the case can move along more swiftly than usual as a result of the DNA tests already being done. She made reference to the Valparaiso woman still being alive.

After saying Friday he does not have the resources to hire a private attorney, Cordero was awarded the services of a public defender and was given a trial date of July 29, with preliminary hearings on May 3 and June 14.

He was also ordered to have no further contact with the alleged victim in the case, though he said he does not even know who she is.

When given the option to remain at the Porter County Jail through the weekend to meet sooner with his public defender, Cordero said he preferred to return to prison so as not to fall behind in classes and work.

Cordero had been sentenced in March 2014 to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to a 1994 Dyer burglary resulting in bodily injury, according to The Times archives.

This came a few months after a jury found him guilty of criminal deviate conduct and burglary in a 2002 Munster sexual assault case. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison in that case.

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.