Journalism / New Haven Register

Sex offender held in attack

Police say North Branford victim, 82, had rented nearby cabin to suspect

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
May 8, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — Police said Joseph Von Britton didn’t have to go far to find a victim.

Police said the known sex offender rented a cabin from an elderly woman who lived in an adjacent house on the Middletown Avenue property.

And it was that 82-year-old woman Von Britton allegedly attempted to rape in the early hours of April 27. If not for DNA left at the scene, police said the crime could have gone unsolved.

Police on Wednesday charged Von Britton, 49, with criminal attempt to commit sexual assault, unlawful restraint and burglary. State police identified the suspect using DNA analysis.

Von Britton was still in police custody Wednesday evening, with bail set at $850,000.

The woman called 911 at about 4:30 a.m. the day of the attack to report that a man had entered her bedroom while she was sleeping, sat on top of her and placed a pillow over her face. The woman, who lives alone, told police that the man attempted to sexually assault her. She struggled and screamed for help, causing the man to leave the house, the police report said.

Officers found an open cellar door, which the woman said she believed the alleged assailant used to enter and exit the house, according to the police report. A canine unit from the West Haven Police Department tracked a trail to an area behind the woman’s house where there are cabins she rents.

Police Chief Matthew Canelli said he did not know how long Von Britton has lived there.

At the time of the incident, the woman said she did not believe she could identify her assailant because it was dark in her bedroom at the time and he did not say anything.

North Branford Detective Ron Onofrio obtained some of the clothing the woman was wearing during the incident and sent it to state police for DNA testing. The forensic lab in Meriden identified skin cells from Von Britton’s hands, Canelli said. The suspect is in a DNA database because of his status as a sex offender.

Von Britton was convicted of fourth-degree sexual assault and third-degree sexual assault in November 1993. He was convicted of first-degree sexual assault in September 1995. He has been listed on the sex-offender registry since 2002.

“That was really good work by Detective Onofrio,” Canelli said.

Onofrio secured an arrest warrant for Von Britton Wednesday, and the suspect was arrested around 4:45 p.m. His arraignment is set for today in Superior Court in New Haven. “This is our first apprehension on a DNA match,” Canelli said.

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