By jim walsh
GSN Staff Writer

She was jumped from behind, thrown to the ground and violated by an acquaintance in a vacant Tempe apartment.

For the next 15 years, Tracy Rios remained disappointed, losing her faith in the criminal justice system after she reported the sexual assault to Tempe police and identified her attacker. He was never prosecuted.

Rios went on with her life, trying not to let her unhealed emotional scar defeat her.

“I was told they couldn’t take it any further. It kind of hurt,’’ Rios said. “It’s sad. It makes us victims look like they don’t take us seriously.’’

But Rios’ world changed in early 2017 when a Tempe police cold case detective suddenly on her door and delivered incredible news.

The sexual assault examination kit, which had been administered to Rios so many years earlier, had finally been tested as part of a national campaign by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to clear up a huge backlog.

Tempe police had received a “hit,’’ identifying Rios’ attacker as Nur Muktar, backing up her original account. Rios had been unable to call Muktar, who had disconnected his phone. At that point, the case was going nowhere.

The detective told Rios something she thought she would never hear. Police were moving forward with plans to arrest Muktar and he would be prosecuted by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

“It restored my faith in the system. Everyone can get justice,’’ Rios said, even if it took far too long in her case.

She said she felt vindicated. The news was jarring, but it also was what she always wanted.

“I get justice, that my story is was being heard, and that guy was going to jail for what he did.’’

Muktar, 40, who has an arrest record for several other crimes, including burglary and drug possession, was sentenced on March 8, 2018, by Superior Court Judge Peter Reinstein to seven years in prison for sexual assault and to lifetime supervised probation for attempted sexual assault. Muktar also must register as a sex offender.

Muktar pleaded guilty to the charges, sparing Rios from testifying about her attack in court.

“I didn’t need to be cross-examined and second-guessed. I’d have to relive everything again,’’ Rios said. “I will never forget’’ the attack.

“You are never quite whole again,’’ said Rios, 42, a medical transportation driver. “It always stays in the back of your mind.’’

Instead, Rios accepted an invitation to tell her story at a press conference in New York City in March 2019, when Vance summarized the results of his rape kits campaign and she was one of four survivors to attend.

Although Rios said she was very nervous and overwhelmed by her first trip to New York City, she described the attack in graphic detail.

She had been to a friend’s birthday party on June 14, 2002. She had told Muktar she was tired and wanted a ride home.

She said Muktar told her he had one more stop to make nearby and he would drive her home after that. Rios trusted Muktar, who mysteriously had a key to an apartment.

After walking down a hallway, Rios said, she realized the apartment was vacant when she walked into the empty living room.

She said Muktar grabbed her from behind and threw her to the ground. She said she fought her attacker off as best she could.

Muktar eventually drove her home, telling her on the trip, “I hope we can still be friends,’’ Rios said.

She told him yes to please him, realizing she was still in jeopardy, knowing in her heart the opposite was true.

“I came home and I just cried. I knew not to take a shower because it would wash away the DNA evidence. I just cried myself to sleep,’’ Rios said.

Rios said she thanked Vance for shelling out the grants that finally got her and other survivors the justice they craved. In turn, she said Vance praised Rios and the others for their bravery in telling their stories.

“I wanted to get my story out there to let other girls know there is justice and not to give up hope,’’ Rios said. “They let me down, but they made up for it afterwards.’’