Washington State Office of Attorney General

12/01/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/01/2021 14:43

Attorney General’s task force recommends reforms to improve state’s response to sexual assault

Recommendations include addressing shortage of sexual assault trauma nurses, enhancing training for prosecutors, consistent protocols for the collection of lawfully owed DNA

OLYMPIA - Today the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) Advisory Group convened by Attorney General Bob Ferguson's office released a report recommending reforms that will improve the state's response to sexual assault. The recommendations include:

  • Addressing the shortage of sexual assault trauma nurses to ensure sufficient and appropriate care for survivors;
  • Increasing victim-centered, trauma-informed training for prosecutors to improve interactions with survivors of sexual assault who are asked to testify; and
  • Establishing consistent statewide process for collecting DNA from offenders who will not serve a term of confinement. Earlier this year the Attorney General's Office identified hundreds of registered sex offenders from whom a DNA sample was never collected.

Additionally, the report highlights the progress made by Attorney General Ferguson's Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) and legislative appropriations aimed at clearing the state's rape kit backlog. The report details several examples of cold cases solved as a result of testing the kits that, until the initiative, languished in the evidence rooms in local law enforcement agencies.

The report is available here.

A bipartisan group of legislators serve on the advisory group, including Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, and Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.

"We must come together to continue improving our state's response to sexual assault, and fight for justice for all survivors," Ferguson said. "I will do everything I can to ensure sexual assault survivors get the justice they deserve."

"We've made verifiable progress in addressing this issue: tackling the backlog, setting up a tracking system and investing in a state lab," said Orwall, who in the 2021 session sponsored the "Survivors Bill of Rights" legislation based on the advisory group's prior recommendations. "I am proud of these critical steps to provide a pathway for justice, but I also want to acknowledge that there is more work ahead to ensure that we, as a state, are providing sexual assault survivors with the answers and the support they need and deserve."

"We have made major progress since the beginning of this journey, which has been to ensure justice to the victims and get perpetrators off the streets," Mosbrucker, ranking Republican on the House Public Safety Committee, said. "It has been an honor working side-by-side with Representative Orwall as we address this issue together in a bipartisan way. Words cannot adequately express my gratitude to the survivors who have been strong enough to come forward to improve the state's response to these crimes. It is important to empower them as a way to begin the healing process. There is more work to be done, but we are dedicated to carry it forward on behalf of sexual assault survivors across our state."

More than 5,000 backlogged sexual assault kits have been tested, Washington State Patrol Crime Lab estimates that all backlogged kits will be tested before 2023

As a result of the Legislature's appropriations, and additional funding provided through the Attorney General's SAKI Initiative, all untested kits have been inventoried and submitted by local law enforcement to the State Patrol crime lab for testing. Moreover, 5,129 of an estimated 9,232 backlogged sexual assault kits have undergone testing and CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) review. The 5,129 tested kits contained 2,099 DNA samples that the crime lab uploaded into the CODIS law enforcement database. Consequently, these newly tested DNA kits yielded 794 "hits," meaning the DNA profile from the kits matched a DNA profile in the database. Most DNA profiles in the CODIS database are the result of convictions and arrests.

The State Patrol Crime Lab estimates all backlogged kits should be tested by Dec. 31, 2022.

Cold cases have been solved as a result of testing backlogged kits

The report details five examples of convictions that resulted from testing the kits that once languished on shelves in evidence rooms across the state.

Warning: The following examples may be triggering for survivors of sexual assault.

  • State v. Lay (King County): Jonnie Lay and another man kidnapped the adult female victim in downtown Seattle, drove her to an open field, threatened to kill her if she did not comply, and repeatedly raped her. Afterwards, Lay forced the victim into the backseat of the car, and raped her again, holding a screwdriver to her throat. He then attempted to force the victim into prostitution, and when she resisted, he threw her out of the car. The victim made her way to the women's shelter where she had been living, called the police, and got a forensic exam at Harborview Medical Center where a SAK was collected. At the time, the victim reportedly did not wish to proceed with the case and it was deactivated.

In 2016, the SAK was tested as a result of the initiative to clear the backlog. The testing resulted in a "hit" that matched Lay's DNA profile. In 2020, a jury convicted Lay of Rape in the Second Degree for an assault that occurred in 2007 and he was sentenced to 136 months in custody.

  • State v. Hailu (King County): In downtown Seattle, Kirose Hailu lured the adult female victim into an alley by claiming the person she was looking for headed there. He then threatened to kill her if she resisted as he raped her vaginally and orally. As he left, he told her, "My friends are going to come and fuck you. If you move, I'll kill you." The victim waited a while, then got dressed and left. A couple of days later she was back downtown where she saw Hailu. She waived down a patrol car and reported the rape. The victim got a forensic exam where a SAK was collected. However, the case was closed when the detective reported being unable to contact the victim. As part of clearing the backlog, the SAK was tested and resulted in a "hit" that matched Hailu's DNA profile.

Hailu pled guilty to Rape in the Third Degree and was sentenced to 60 months, consecutive to the 170 months he is serving for a prior conviction of Rape in the Second Degree.

  • State v. Rance (King County): The adult female victim had just been discharged from Harborview Medical Center and was waiting for a bus when Eric Rance approached her and convinced her to go with him to his place nearby. Shortly thereafter, the victim became uncomfortable and tried to leave. Rance became extremely angry and threatened the victim. Rance put a condom on and raped the victim as she cried. After he raped her, he forced her to shower and then allowed her to leave. The victim immediately reported it to a patrol officer who drove by. The victim underwent a forensic exam where a SAK was collected. The case was deactivated within days because the detective reported being unable to contact the victim. As part of the initiative to clear the sexual assault kit backlog, the SAK was tested and resulted in a "hit" that matched Rance's DNA profile.

Rance pled guilty to Assault in the Third Degree for an assault that occurred in 2013 and received credit for time served.

  • State v. Young (Spokane County): Eugene Young was introduced to an adult female victim at a bar in downtown Spokane. Young stated he could not drive and asked the victim for a ride. Mutual friends told her it would be fine. The victim drove him to a house and went inside. Once inside, Young attacked the victim from behind, threatening to cut her with a knife. He then raped the victim vaginally and attempted to rape her anally. After approximately two hours, he had the victim drop him off at another location. The victim drove back to where her friends were, reported the assault to police, and went to the hospital for a sexual assault exam. However, the SAK was never submitted for testing. The Attorney General's Office provided funding for the kit to be tested, and the DNA sample matched Young.

Young pled guilty to Second Degree Assault with Sexual Motivation and received an exceptional sentence of 144 months with a 24 month enhancement.

  • State v. Childs (King County): Robert Childs Jr., a 30-year-old man, raped a 12-year-old girl, who was unknown to him, at the Torchlight Parade in 2006. Childs' DNA was found in the victim's underwear. To clear the backlog of SAKs, the kit was tested in 2018 and matched Childs.

Childs was convicted of Rape of a Child in the Second Degree and is currently awaiting sentencing. He faces a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

This list is not exhaustive.

The advisory group

The 17-member group includes:

  • Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, co-chair
  • Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, co-chair
  • Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond
  • Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center
  • Leah Griffin, representing survivors of sexual assault
  • Nicole Stephens, representing survivors of sexual assault
  • Kristina Hoffman, Washington State Patrol
  • James McMahan, Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs
  • Ben Santos, Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys
  • Ali Hohman, Washington Defender Association
  • Flora Diaz, Association of Washington Cities
  • Timothy Grisham, Washington Association of County Officials
  • Michelle Dixon-Wall, Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs
  • Rick Torrance, Office of Crime Victims Advocacy
  • Alicia Eyler, Washington State Hospital Association
  • Terri Stewart, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner
  • Katharine Hemann, Attorney General's Office

Lauren Vlas, a Policy Analyst in the Attorney General's Office, facilitates the advisory group's work.

Attorney General Ferguson's Sexual Assault Kit Initiative

Attorney General Ferguson has prioritized clearing the rape kit backlog and improving the state's response to sexual assault. Through his Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, his office:

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