HIGHLAND PARK, NJ—A 23-year-old Highland Park man is facing a slew of criminal charges after he allegedly approached a woman on the street at gunpoint, before kidnapping, beating, and sexually assaulting her in front of her nine-month-old child.
Brandon O. Cox has been charged with at least 16 counts in the violent attack that occurred on Harper Street in the quiet town on February 19.
Documents obtained by New Brunswick Today show that authorities believe he was required to file with the state's sex offender registry, and that he actually lived just three houses away from the scene of the crime, but did not register that address under the law.
The incident that shook the community began in broad daylight, on the unusually warm Sunday. The attacker allegedly forced the victim into the basement of 126 Harper Street, leaving her and the baby there, according to court documents.
"During the investigation it was determined that the victim was walking with a child when the defendant approached her, displayed a weapon, forced her into the basement of a nearby apartment building, sexually assaulted her and repeatedly punched her before fleeing," read an official statement from the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office (MCPO).
According to the February 27 announcement, Cox was "arrested earlier last week on an unrelated charge" and then "subsequently was charged with attacking the woman."
The charges against Cox include counts of kidnapping, attempted murder, aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual contact, armed robbery, burglary, unlawful possession of a weapon, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, endangering the welfare of a child, and endangering an injured victim.
But they also include a count for failing to register as a sex offender under Megan's Law, which would mean that Cox must have already been convicted of a sex crime.
The February 27 press release issued by the MCPO's James O'Neill, articulated that they had their suspect custody, and it led a feeling of relief in community.
But O'Neill's statement referred to Cox "a resident of the Somerset section of Franklin Township," when the MCPO should have known better by then.
Official documents signed by a MCPO Detective five days earlier indicate that Cox is also being charged with failing to register under Megan's Law, a state statute law that requires sex offenders to register their home address in a database that can be searched on the internet as a matter of public record.
"Suspect resides at 120 Harper Street... but did not report the address" reads one of the affidavits filed in support of a complaint that Cox violated the registration requirement of Megan's Law.
"Defendant admitted that he resides in Highland Park during the week, and Franklin Township on weekends," wrote its author, MCPO Detective Allegra Bitterman.
It's not clear if Cox ever registered as a sex offender, and no one under that name appears when the registry is searched.
As reported by NJ.com's Craig McCarthy:
Court records show that Cox was previously indicted on criminal sexual assault charges in 2014 in a nearby Franklin Township. He admitted in May to charges of child abuse and neglect as the result of a plea deal with the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office.
The prosecutor's office had originally accused Cox, who was 20-years-old at the time and living in South Brunswick, of forcing a 14-year-old to have sex with him....
He was sentenced to 18 months as part of the plea deal. He had already served much of that while being held on bail awaiting trial and was released from the Somerset County jail on Aug. 2, 2016, a few days after his sentencing, according to court records.
According to other affidavits, the MCPO says that the Cox's DNA was "found at the scene on a rubber glove" and that the victim's DNA was found "on a t-shirt in the suspect's residence."
Detective Bitterman worked with Detective Sean McGraw of the Highland Park Police Department on the case.
She is the daughter of former State Senator Barbara Buono and Lawrence Bitterman, a prominent local attorney who often represents police.
The investigation is described as "active and... continuing." Anyone with information is asked to call Detective McGraw at (723) 572-3800, or Detective Bitterman at (732) 745-4401.