James Michael Biela, 27, of Sparks, Nev., was arrested Tuesday night and booked into the Washoe County Jail on suspicion of murdering Brianna Denison. He's also charged with the kidnaping and sexual assault of another woman in Reno a month earlier, Reno Police Chief Michael Poehlman said at a news conference.
Investigators said DNA evidence gathered from the scene linked Denison's killer to at least two other sexual attacks on women at or near the university from October to December 2007.
Biela was being held without bail. Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick said prosecutors have the option of seeking a death sentence in the case.
Biela provided a DNA sample that matched evidence found at the scene where Denison's body was found in February, Poehlman said. She had been reported missing in January.
"Can you believe it?" the girl's aunt, Lauren Denison, told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "The police said the DNA came back, and it's him."
"This is what we have been waiting for," Lauren Denison added.
Denison, 19, a sophomore at Santa Barbara City College in California, was visiting her hometown during winter break when she vanished early Jan. 20. Authorities say she had been sleeping on a couch at a friend's rented home near the University of Nevada, Reno.
After weeks of searching, a passerby in southeast Reno found her body in an open field on Feb. 15, reports CBS affiliate KTVN. Authorities say autopsy tests prove she was strangled and sexually assaulted.
Investigators said from the beginning they believed the suspect, who taunted police by leaving two pair of intertwined women's panties at the site where Denison's body was found, lived in the area.
Public records show Biela has lived in the Reno area since 2002. Poehlman said Biela left the area in March as police efforts to find Denison's slayer intensified. He took a job in Washington state, but in September returned to Sparks.
Poehlman said Biela's girlfriend went to Washington in September to drive back to Nevada with him, found some underwear in his car and mentioned that discovery to a friend who in turn tipped police on Nov. 1. That was one of more than 2,200 tips received by authorities since Denison's slaying.
Authorities said Biela was put under surveillance following the tip, was questioned on Nov. 7, and was arrested on Tuesday as he headed to a child care center to pick up his son.
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