Marine still a person of interest in Laurel Bay rape, NCIS says

A lance corporal from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort released from jail Monday still is a person of interest in the rape of a woman last month in her Laurel Bay home, according to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

The Marine was released from the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston after DNA evidence analyzed by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory did not match his. He had been jailed since Feb. 5, when he was charged by NCIS with rape, breaking and entering, and larceny in connection with a Feb. 2 assault inside a home at the military housing complex. Those charges have been dropped, according to authorities.

"He is still a person of interest in the investigation," said Gunnery Sgt. Chad McMeen, air station spokesman. "Because the DNA evidence didn't match, they didn't have grounds to hold him. There is still some circumstantial evidence they had when they took him into custody."

The Marine was cleared to return to full duty Tuesday and has been offered time off by his superiors, McMeen said. It is unclear how much time off the Marine was offered and whether he accepted.

Base and NCIS have declined to release the Marine's name or details about evidence collected, the attack or the victim. Base officials have said the victim did not know the attacker.

"People want to know more about this investigation, but NCIS isn't going to jeopardize the overall case because the public wants to know more," McMeen said. "There's a difference between what the public wants to know and what the public needs to know."

NCIS is checking out other leads and has taken DNA samples from more than 50 people, including maintenance workers, military police officers and anyone else who might have been near the house when the attack occurred, McMeen said.

One of those wanting to know more about the attack is Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, who said Tuesday he planned to arrange a meeting this week between NCIS investigators and his detectives to discuss details of the attack and the Navy's investigation.

"We respect the fact that they have a job to do, but Laurel Bay is not a compound," Tanner said. "Just because this incident happened on federal property doesn't preclude it from happening outside of Laurel Bay. Something could occur in the county, and we need to know more about this case if we have a similar incident."

Tanner said he does not believe the Laurel Bay attack is linked to any other unsolved sexual assaults in Beaufort County.