Rio Communities

A Rio Communities man who has been wanted for more than five months in connection with the rape of an elderly woman in March was arrested this week in Douglas, Ariz., after attempting to visit an inmate in prison.

Wilbert J. Leat, 69, was indicted by a grand jury in May on nine separate felony counts, including criminal sexual penetration, kidnapping, criminal sexual contact, aggravated burglary, assault and aggravated battery. Leat is also facing charges of intimidation of a witness, tampering with evidence and breaking and entering.

According to Valencia County Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. James C. Purdy, Leat wanted to visit the son of a friend at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Douglas when prison authorities discovered he was wanted in New Mexico.

“It’s my understanding that they did a background check on Mr. Leat before the visit was to take place, and they found out he had a warrant,” Purdy said. “The prison contacted the local police department, who went to the prison to talk with Mr. Leat.”

When the police officer arrived at the prison, he made contact with Leat and took him into custody. The 68-year-old man was booked into jail at the Douglas Police Department, where he currently is being held.

“I think that it is ironic that he’s possibly looking at going to prison. He’s been in prison, and he got caught visiting prison,” Purdy said. “I knew it was a matter of time before he was caught. They always get caught, and they can’t run forever.”

Purdy and other officers at the sheriff’s department have been searching for Leat since the incident on March 27. Soon after the alleged crime took place, Leat fled Valencia County.

The detective said he had several possible leads to the suspect’s whereabouts soon after he left Valencia County, but nothing had panned out.

“We know he broke down in Tucson (Ariz.), and we found out that someone had wired money to him at a truck stop,” Purdy said. “We searched the Phoenix and Scottsdale area and sent out numerous photos and information to law enforcement agencies in Fresno, California.”

As the search continued without further leads, Purdy decided he would try to get help finding Leat through the nationally televised crime-fighting show, “America’s Most Wanted.” He sent a package to the national program with information about the case several weeks ago.

“I haven’t heard from them yet,” the detective said. “But I’m sure they have thousands of cases coming in every day.”

Purdy said he’s planning to travel to Arizona next week to bring Leat back to Valencia County for prosecution. Leat has reportedly signed a waiver of extradition.

Purdy said the 74-year-old victim has been told about Leat’s arrest and is said to be “elated and very grateful for the news.”

According to a police report, the elderly victim allowed a man to enter her home when he asked her for a drink of water. Once the man got into the house, he allegedly attacked the victim in the kitchen.

“She was choked and dragged to the back room, and he proceeded to rape her,” Purdy said.

The detective said the elderly woman was held against her will for one to two hours inside her home while she was raped and threatened. The woman was treated and released from an Albuquerque hospital after family members alerted police about the incident. Leat was her neighbor at the time.

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin, as well as the executive editor of El Defensor Chieftain, the News-Bulletin's sister paper in Socorro.
Clara is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.