The victim’s rape kit, which contains DNA evidence, was among thousands that sat untested for years in a statewide backlog. It was finally sent for forensic testing last year and the DNA matched that of an Illinois sex offender, prosecutors say.
More than a decade after a woman was grabbed off the streets in downtown Seattle and raped, her alleged attacker has been identified through DNA after the victim’s rape kit — which at one time was among about 6,000 untested sexual-assault kits in the state — was finally analyzed and run through a national database.
Jonnie Lee Lay, a 48-year-old homeless sex offender now registered in Waukegan, Illinois, was charged this week with first-degree rape and a $500,000 warrant was issued for his arrest, according to King County prosecutors.
Lay’s criminal history includes convictions for third-degree assault with sexual motivation and failure to register as a sex offender, court records show.
According to the charges:
Most Read Local Stories
- Microsoft pledges $500 million to tackle housing crisis in Seattle, Eastside
- 'Nonessential': The federal shutdown's most unusual victim is one of the Northwest's best-kept secrets | Danny Westneat
- Video released of Seattle police sergeant who sat in a chair in front of a man's workplace, seeking an apology WATCH
- 3 found dead in Sammamish a longtime Realtor, author, their son, relative says
- Three people found dead in Sammamish home WATCH
On March 14, 2007, the then-44-year-old woman was walking near Second Avenue and Pike Street when she was pulled into the back seat of a white Cadillac. The driver dropped the woman and her assailant off in a wooded area near a homeless encampment, where the woman was thrown to the ground and raped.
During the attack, the man threatened to kill the woman with a screwdriver. When he told the woman he wanted her to work for him as a prostitute, she told him he would have to kill her first.
After the rape, the man called the driver of the Cadillac to pick them up and he again raped the woman in the back seat. The man dropped his ID and the woman was able to read his name — and he again threatened to kill her if she reported the sexual assault, telling her it would be easy to find her since he knew she was living at a homeless shelter at the time.
Several hours later, the men dropped the woman off at the Olympic Sculpture Park and she reported the rape to police. She went to Harborview Medical Center, where she underwent a sexual-assault exam.
During the exams, forensic evidence is collected from a victim’s body and clothing and can include underwear, swabs of a victim’s mouth, fingernails, genitals and any part of the skin where semen or saliva may be present. Blood and urine are also collected and bruises and other injuries are photographed.
The evidence, or rape kit, became part of a logjam of such kits that sat untested for years because of limited funding and staffing issues at the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab.
Legislation that went into effect in July 2015 requires police across the state to send every new rape kit to the crime lab for forensic analysis. But before then, it was up to individual officers or detectives to decide which kits to send to the crime lab for testing. Often, kits weren’t analyzed if the victim knew her assailant because creating a DNA profile was deemed unnecessary.
Six months before the law went into effect, former Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole ordered that all new rape kits be submitted for testing and said her department would begin addressing its backlog of old kits. In December 2016, Seattle police finished submitting paperwork to the crime lab on 1,063 old rape kits, the oldest from 1996.
In the case against Lay, the victim’s rape kit was finally analyzed in September 2017 and a male DNA profile was developed, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Emily Petersen wrote in charging papers. In February, the DNA profile was entered into the FBI’s DNA database — the Combined DNA Index System or CODIS — and matched to Lay, Petersen wrote.
Lay’s DNA was in CODIS as a result of his prior felony convictions. His first name is spelled “Jonnie” and “Johnny” in the charges.
Half the money was earmarked to test 2,100 rape kits, roughly a third of the estimated backlog. Each kit costs about $700 to analyze. The remaining grant money will be spent inventorying the state’s backlogged kits and investigating criminal cases against suspects identified through DNA, the state Attorney General’s Office said at the time.
A team recently began working on a detailed inventory of the state’s untested rape kits, Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman Brionna Aho said Friday.