A Livermore man facing charges for two cold-case sexual assaults in the East Bay died Thursday from injuries sustained in a suicide attempt that occurred one week earlier in the hours after the crimes' survivors testified against him in court, according to prosecutors.
The case against Gregory Paul Vien first gained attention after authorities announced his arrest last year in the 1997 crimes based on new evidence that included a DNA sample collected from a used Baskin-Robbins ice cream spoon.
"The survivors of these sexual assaults showed great courage in coming to court to face the man who attacked and terrorized them 23 years ago. Both women lived for all these years without knowing who assaulted her or seeing him brought to justice," Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said in a statement Friday.
"The police agencies never stopped investigating these heinous crimes in order to keep the victim-survivors and the communities of Livermore and Union City safe. We applaud their dedication, tenacity and the excellent investigative work that led to the arrest of and charges against Gregory Paul Vien," O'Malley added.
Melissa E. Adams, Vien's attorney, told the Weekly on Friday, "I would ask the community to please respect the family at this time. They are good people and they have suffered so much in this last year. They are shocked and completely devastated at this loss."
"None of this is, however, to minimize the tragedies experienced by the victims, but rather to suggest that closure in this manner is not what anyone wanted," Adams said.
Vien, 61, who had pleaded not guilty to the crimes, had been out of custody for the past seven months after an Alameda County judge ordered his release in April -- over prosecutors' objection -- under the zero-bail policy instituted for certain inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, the criminal case kept proceeding through the system with Vien out of jail, with his preliminary hearing beginning on Nov. 12 and featuring testimony from both survivors. But as the hearing was set to continue the next day, the court was informed that Vien was hospitalized with serious injuries from a nail gun sustained in a suicide attempt, O'Malley said.
Vien died from those self-inflicted injuries in the hospital on Thursday, according to the DA.
The case against Vien is now dismissed, as is required under the law when a defendant dies while the charges are pending and there has been no conviction, according to O'Malley.
"Mr. Vien’s untimely death is not an occurrence to be celebrated by anyone with a shred of humanity. Only a truly disturbed individual rejoices in the death of another," Adams said.
"I want to take the opportunity to remind this community that people are innocent until proven guilty. Mr. Vien was accused of these offenses, but not convicted. Although that distinction may feel irrelevant in the face of his death, it is still an important distinction," the defense attorney added.
The crimes occurred within four months of each other in 1997.
A 41-year-old woman in Union City was attacked on May 6, 1997 while walking to BART after work, dragged into a secluded area and sexually assaulted, according to authorities. Union City police obtained a sample of the suspect's DNA from the victim's clothing.
Then Sept. 15, 1997, a 22-year-old woman was attacked and sexually assaulted while walking near Livermore High School. Detectives in Livermore also collected a DNA sample.
Both cases went cold, and the culprit's identity was unknown for more than two decades.
Then, investigators made a break in 2019 when the Livermore police forensics team sent their DNA sample to a private laboratory, which conducted a genetic genealogy search of the private database -- with preliminary results yielding a possible relative to the 1997 perpetrator.
Livermore police soon targeted maintenance worker Vien as their prime suspect, conducted extensive surveillance and collected a sample of his DNA from a discarded Baskin-Robbins spoon. The subsequent tests resulted in matches to the Livermore and Union City assaults, according to authorities.
Vien was arrested on Nov. 5, 2019 at his home in Livermore on a slew of charges and special allegations for the two 1997 crimes. Livermore police alleged at the time that there were three other unsolved brutal rapes in Livermore between 1995 and 1997 that had similar characteristics, but those cases did not result in charges against Vien -- or anyone else -- to date.
Vien remained in the Santa Rita Jail with bail set at $2.5 million until late April when Alameda County Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon granted a defense request to have Vien released on his own recognizance to his Livermore residence due to health factors that made him at risk for COVID-19 infection during the pandemic if he stayed in jail.
The decision, which came despite objections from the DA's office, drew criticism from authorities and residents in the Tri-Valley, including a scathing public letter by Livermore Mayor John Marchand.
Vien was reportedly remanded to stay at home with an ankle monitor and only allowed to leave for court appearances or to meet with his attorneys.
The defendant was back in court at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland last week for the start of his preliminary hearing -- a court session during which a judge decides if there's enough evidence to force a defendant to stand trial on the charges.
Both survivors testified in open court with Vien and his attorney present on Nov. 12, according to O'Malley. The second survivor was scheduled to complete her testimony on Nov. 13, but the proceedings were halted when the court learned Vien was in the hospital, according to O'Malley.
The Livermore man shot himself several times with a nail gun in a suicide attempt, sustaining significant injuries, according to O'Malley. Vien died of those self-inflicted wounds on Thursday (Nov. 19).
"As such, the case must be dismissed," O'Malley said.