DNA project that led to arrest in McCleary rape case reaches milestone

Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced that his lawfully owed DNA project has reached a milestone, with more than 2,000 new profiles added to the national DNA database since the effort began.

In a release, Ferguson’s office says that they are working with local law enforcement across Washington to collect DNA from sex offenders, violent offenders and individuals convicted of serious felonies who legally owe samples as part of their criminal convictions, but have failed to provide them. 

“Collecting the DNA of thousands of serious offenders will help us solve more cold cases,” Ferguson said. “This work makes communities safer and sends the message that we will use every tool at our disposal to bring justice to survivors and victims of these devastating crimes.”

So far, 2,061 new profiles and counting have been added to the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, since the office launched the project in partnership with the Department of Justice. 

Of those profiles 76 resulted in a “hit,” meaning the offender’s profile matched DNA evidence already in the database.

These new “hits” can help identify perpetrators of unsolved rapes, murders and other crimes in our state and around the country.

Ferguson applied for a Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Grant from the Department of Justice in April 2017, launching the lawfully owed DNA project in October 2019, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice and local law enforcement.

The grants have assisted in multiple cold cases, among them:

  • Nearly 20-year-old rape case in Grays Harbor County: In 2003, a 17-year-old McCleary girl was abducted near her home by an unknown man, who restrained her and forced her into her own car. He drove her somewhere, raped her, and drove her back near her home. She freed herself and drove home. DNA recovered from her sexual assault examination did not return any matches in the database at the time. AGO funding for private forensic genetic genealogy testing helped lead investigators to a suspect, Paul Bieker, who was later convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. 
  • One suspect sentenced for two cold cases: In March 2022, Spokane police arrested Kenneth Downing in connection with home invasions and rapes in Pullman in 2003 and 2004. AGO-funded genetic genealogy testing helped match Downing’s DNA to the suspect in both crimes. Downing was convicted of multiple counts of rape and assault and is serving a life prison sentence. He won’t be eligible for parole for more than 23 years. 
  • 1995 killer identified: In March 2022, the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office announced a match for the DNA left behind by the killer of 61-year-old Patricia Lorraine Barnes, who was murdered in 1995. AGO-funded genetic genealogy testing in late 2021 helped lead investigators to the suspect, Douglas Keith Krohn, who died in 2016. The case was closed, providing her family and the community closure. 
  • Murder arrest three decades later: In 1988, 19-year-old Jennifer Brinkman was found dead inside her family’s Marysville home. The murder weapon was left behind, but the case went cold. The AGO genetic genealogy program helped fund testing that ultimately led to the arrest of a 52-year-old Renton man.

Washington requires many offenders convicted of sex offenses and serious crimes to provide their DNA as a term of their conviction. Ferguson started the project nearly four years ago to collect DNA from violent and sex offenders in Washington who slipped through the system without complying with this requirement.

His office started by collecting samples from currently registered sex offenders and offenders under the supervision of the state Department of Corrections, including those who are incarcerated and in community custody.

Then the office collected DNA from offenders convicted of sex, kidnapping and homicide offenses.

Now, the office is working to collect samples from offenders convicted of a variety of violent and felony offenses, including assault and robbery.

The Attorney General’s Office estimates thousands of violent offenders are living in Washington with an obligation to provide their DNA sample.

New law passed to help the problem

A new law took effect July 23 aimed at curbing this problem of individuals slipping through the system without providing DNA samples.

Years ago the Attorney General’s Office highlighted a problem: Washington has had no uniform process for collecting these court-ordered DNA samples. The practice varies between counties and can result in failure to collect samples.

This year the Legislature passed House Bill 1028, which directs courts to create time-sensitive protocols for collecting DNA upon sentencing. HB 1028 originated with the Attorney General’s Office Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) Advisory Group’s recommendation. Specifically, the law requires courts to implement a sample collection system that includes scheduling a compliance hearing within 10 days if DNA is not collected at the time of sentencing to ensure a sample is collected.

Ferguson sent a letter to local judges when the new law went into effect, urging courts to comply with the mandate to prevent the backlog of offenders who owe DNA from growing. The letter also seeks information from Washington courts about how they plan to implement these local protocols.

The new law does not address samples that were previously ordered and are still owed.

Project background

More information about this initiative is available on the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative website.