A rapist who terrorized Del Mar got 326 years in prison. The law changed and now he’s up for parole

Robert Dean Rustad
(Courtesy California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

Robert Rustad was 22 when he admitted sexually assaulting women in the mid-1990s


Before he attacked them, the stranger would follow his victims to their Del Mar homes. He would return later to sneak in through an unlocked door, grab the victim from behind, press a cold blade to her throat.

The ambushes started in 1993. Over three years, seven women were attacked. Five were sexually assaulted.

All of the victims were alone in their homes, and some were fresh out of the shower when he confronted them. Most were threatened at knifepoint and tied up. One was badly beaten, her hair pulled out.

It ended in 1996. As the stranger fled, his last victim screamed and chased him until others jumped in and tackled the assailant: Robert Rustad, a 22-year-old MiraCosta College student and Del Mar resident.

Rustad pleaded guilty to three dozen crimes, including rape. He was sentenced to 326 years to life in prison.

On Wednesday, after 24 years in custody, Rustad has his first shot at parole.

Rustad qualifies for a parole hearing because the law has changed since he went to prison in 1997. It now takes into account a person’s age at the time of their offense. Rustad was young — in his case, between the ages of 19 and 22 — when he committed the crimes.

The law change means young offenders get a shot at parole after serving 25 years in prison. That includes murderers.

However, that same law excluded those convicted under a one-strike sex offense law, as Rustad was. Then last year, an appellate court found that exclusion was unconstitutional. While legal wrangling continues, Rustad gets the hearing.

Two of his victims believe he remains a threat. One called the parole hearing “an injustice.”

“I was assured that I would never have to be concerned that he could hurt me or anyone else ever again,” the victim, who asked not to be named, said in an email Tuesday.

The Union-Tribune does not name the victims of sexual assault without their permission.

Another victim, who also asked not to be identified, said Rustad is “dangerous.”

“This is not about him paying for what he did or punishment,” she said Tuesday. “This is about keeping the community safe. We know what this guy did.”

News of his potential parole, she said, had her on “an emotional rollercoaster ... almost like the day he burst in ... and grabbed me.”

Rustad’s attorney, Jared Eisenstat, noted in an email Tuesday that his client pleaded guilty before trial, and also revealed to authorities more information about his crimes than they knew.

Eisenstat also said the way a brain changes into adulthood makes it reasonable consider a person’s youth as a factor in a crime. In addition, he said, Rustad has gained insight into his crimes and feels “genuine remorse.”

Deputy District Attorney Richard Sachs balked at the notion that Rustad has taken responsibility for “cold-blooded and premeditated” crimes.

He said Rustad “inflicted terror,” stalking some of his victims and threatening to kill them if they didn’t comply with his demands. He raped two, and forced three others to perform a sex act.

“All of these is a slap in the face to our victims, and a miscarriage of justice that they even have to sit through this hearing— and suffer the ordeal of the pain and terror of the potential for his release,” Sachs said.

There is another notable change in the law since Rustad’s sentencing. The state now allows some inmates to be considered for “elder parole.” Those who qualify must be at least 50 years old and have served at least 20 years in prison.

Under that change, Rustad would become eligible for consideration for parole in four years.

Rustad is in custody at Valley State Prison in the Central Valley.

—Teri Figueroa is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune