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Guilty plea in "East Coast rapist" case falls through in Virginia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A plea deal for the man police say is the "East Coast rapist," who terrorized women for more than a decade, fell through on Tuesday, and he will go to trial in Virginia, a prosecutor said.

The suspect, Aaron Thomas, 40, had been expected to plead guilty in a Prince William County, Virginia, court to rape and abduction charges for an attack on three trick-or-treating teenagers in 2009.

But then he declined to enter the plea, Commonwealth Attorney Paul Ebert said.

"He indicated he didn't know what he wanted to do, and as a result, there was no hearing today," he told Reuters.

Trial on the rape and abduction charges, as well as firearms allegations that had been dropped under the plea bargain, will start on January 14, Ebert said.

Asked if he was surprised by Thomas, Ebert said: "Anything he does doesn't really surprise me. He's been pretty inconsistent in the positions he's taken since he was arrested."

Thomas, the son of a District of Columbia police officer, was arrested in March 2011 in New Haven, Connecticut. Police say he attacked at least 17 women in Maryland, Virginia, Rhode Island and Connecticut in a rampage that began in 1997.

Thomas had pleaded guilty to abducting three teenage girls who were returning home from Halloween trick or treating in 2009. Armed with a handgun, he raped two of them. The third used her cellphone to send text messages and call for help, and Thomas fled when police approached.

The Halloween attack was the last that police have linked to the man they dubbed the "East Coast rapist." Thomas was arrested after police took a sample of his DNA from a discarded cigarette butt.

Thomas is scheduled to plead guilty on November 30 to a rape charge from a 2001 attack in Loudoun County, Virginia, also near Washington. He faces the possibility of several life terms in prison if found guilty on all the abduction rape charges.

In an interview with the Washington Post published on Sunday, Thomas said he struggled to understand why he did the attacks.

"They were objects," he said of the women he attacked. "Whoever came down the street, an object ... It's awful. It's scary ... I don't know why I couldn't just stop."

Thomas' attorney Ron Fahy declined to comment

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; editing by Philip Barbara)

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