For more than a decade, a former Seattle woman was forced to look over her shoulder, terrified the stranger who dragged her off a downtown street and raped her in March 2007 would make good on his threat to kill her for reporting her sexual assault to Seattle police, according to the woman’s attorney.

After defendant’s first trial ended in a mistrial in July 2019, a second King County Superior Court jury deliberated for two hours on Oct. 6 before finding Jonnie Lay (also known as Johnny Lay), now 51, guilty of second-degree rape in the case of the now 59-year-old woman, court records show.

But Lay, a sex offender with a criminal history dating back to 1990, wasn’t in court to hear the verdict. Released from jail in April because of the COVID pandemic, Lay attended his trial but then spent more than a month in the wind before he was arrested Nov. 23 on a $500,000 bench warrant, after he was found living in a tent near Woodland Park Zoo, according to court records and the victim’s attorney, Julie Kays.

Lay is to be sentenced Feb. 5, with the state recommending he serve just over 11 years in prison, the high end of the standard sentencing range, court records show.

Lay’s defense attorney, Reid Burkland, declined to comment about the case or the defense’s sentence recommendation.

In a lawsuit filed earlier this month against the state and city, Kays alleges the state Department of Corrections (DOC) failed to properly supervise Lay in the years before the 2007 rape, thereby providing him the opportunity to rape her client when he should’ve been in jail. The suit also alleges the Seattle Police Department (SPD) failed to pursue investigative leads — including DNA evidence — that could have resulted in Lay’s arrest years before he was charged with rape in 2018 and extradited from Illinois. Instead, the lead detective originally assigned the case deactivated the investigation within weeks of the initial report without even interviewing the victim, according to the suit.

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Though the victim is named in the lawsuit, The Seattle Times does not generally identify victims of sex crimes. Court records in the criminal and civil cases refer to her by her initials, T.R.

“She feels such a sense of betrayal from the Seattle Police Department for not testing her rape kit back in the day. It’s an institutional betrayal,” said Kays. “She doesn’t want another woman or man to go through what she’s had to go through, waiting for more than a decade for justice.”

Dan Nolte, a spokesperson for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office — which represents city departments, including the police department, in civil lawsuits — said in an email that he’s aware of the suit brought on behalf of T.R.

“We recently received this lawsuit, and we’ll certainly investigate the claims brought by the plaintiff,” Nolte wrote.

Citing DOC records that say Lay’s adherence to the requirements of his community supervision were “abysmal,” the lawsuit alleges DOC’s negligence resulted in Lay treating supervision as a joke as he continued to rack up criminal charges, including for domestic-violence assault, before he raped T.R.

According to the lawsuit, Lay had been on active DOC supervision since 1995.

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In 1999, he was charged with third-degree rape of a child for raping a 15-year-old girl in the back seat of a car in Montesano, Grays Harbor County; he later pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of third-degree assault with sexual motivation and was classified as a Level 1 sex offender, a classification considered the least likely to re-offend, say court records included in the state’s sentencing memorandum in T.R.’s rape case.

“Time and time again, DOC looked the other way, failed to seek warrants in a timely manner for his arrest and on countless occasions, not at all, and generally failed to make Lay’s supervision look like anything other than a joke,” Kays wrote in the lawsuit.

Citing DOC records, Kays quoted a DOC officer, who in 2002 wrote: “Lay is a man with no remorse, who blames his many victims, and smokes crack cocaine on supervision,” according to T.R.’s civil lawsuit.

In 2006, a year before T.R. was raped, a DOC community-corrections officer noted, “Mr. Lay’s behavior demonstrates his attitude to the rule of law and his requirements to register [as a sex offender]: he could not care less,” the lawsuit says.

“The Department is aware of the lawsuit and is unable to comment on pending litigation,” Susan Biller, DOC’s interim communications manager, wrote in an email.

The suit does not specify a dollar amount for damages. Kays said her client wants to leave that decision up to the jury who hears her lawsuit, which could not be filed until after Lay was found guilty in the criminal case.

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A vulnerable victim

T.R., a mother of two, hit rock bottom in early 2007: Her marriage fell apart, she was physically disabled from a work injury, she lost her housing and wound up living at a women’s homeless shelter where she was introduced to drugs, according to charging documents and the state’s summary of trial evidence included in the sentencing memo.

According to court records:

T.R. was walking near Second Avenue and Pike Street when an old white Cadillac pulled up beside her on March 14, 2007. A man — Jonnie Lay — got out and pulled her into the backseat.

The Cadillac’s driver dropped Lay and T.R. off in a wooded area, where Lay pinned her to the ground and raped her, threatening to stab her with a screwdriver if she continued to fight him.

She later told police her rapist made derogatory comments about women and told her, “If she was going to be out walking around, she should expect this type of treatment,” the charges say.

After calling the Cadillac’s driver to come pick him up, Lay raped T.R. again in the vehicle’s backseat. During the assault, Lay dropped his ID card and T.R. read his name. Lay threatened to kill her if she told anyone about the rapes, telling T.R. it would be easy to find her because he knew she was staying at the shelter.

At some point, Lay attempted to force T.R. to work for him as a prostitute but she told him he would have to kill her first.

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Several hours later, the Cadillac dropped T.R. off at the Olympic Sculpture Park on Western Avenue. By then, it was March 15.

T.R. made her way back to the shelter, where she reported the rape to her case worker and together they called 911, according to T.R.’s civil suit.

She provided the responding police officer with a suspect description and Lay’s name, and she agreed to go to Harborview Medical Center, where she underwent an hours-long sexual-assault examination during which her body was photographed and swabbed for DNA evidence. The forensic evidence was packaged in what is commonly known as a rape kit.

On the drive to the hospital, the officer told T.R. her case wouldn’t go anywhere because she was a homeless drug user, according to her lawsuit.

The case was assigned to a detective in SPD’s Sexual Assault Unit on March 19, 2007: The detective ran Lay’s name through a criminal-history database and learned Lay was a homeless sex offender on active DOC supervision, says the lawsuit, which includes copies of the police search results. T.R.’s description of her rapist was consistent with Lay’s race, age and physical characteristics.

But the detective never put together a police photo montage to see if T.R.could make an identification and didn’t contact Lay’s DOC community corrections officer — who had met with Lay the week before the rape — to ask about Lay’s whereabouts, says the suit.

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When the detective phoned T.R. a few days later to schedule a follow-up interview, he assured her her rape kit would be tested. But he never submitted it to the State Patrol Crime Lab for testing, says the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges the detective did “the bare minimum” to follow up with T.R., leaving her a voice message and sending her a letter, neither of which she received.

A few weeks later, the detective marked T.R.’s rape case as inactive, the lawsuit says.

Given Lay’s lengthy criminal history that predated T.R.’s rape, his DNA profile was already in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a law enforcement DNA database operated by the FBI.

Had T.R.’s rape kit been sent to the crime lab for testing, male DNA from T.R.’s body would have quickly been matched to Lay’s profile in CODIS, the lawsuit says.

Instead, T.R had to live with the fear that her rapist could find and kill her, Kays wrote in the lawsuit. “For over a decade, T.R. felt degraded, dismissed and that the cruel words of the responding officer were true: she did not matter, she was just a homeless rape victim.”

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Until legislation went into effect in July 2015, it was up to individual officers or detectives to decide whether to submit a rape kit for testing. Often, the decision to request testing hinged on whether police believed a victim’s account, or considered her credible enough to testify at trial, The Seattle Times reported in 2016.

The Legislature revoked that discretion, requiring every new rape kit be submitted for testing and dedicating funds to test rape kits that had sat untouched in police evidence storage facilities, sometimes for decades.

As of November, 5,096 of the 10,311 previously untested rape kits found across the state had been submitted for DNA analysis: Of the 1,959 DNA profiles entered into CODIS from the newly tested kits, 869 of them — or just over 45% — resulted in CODIS “hits” to known offender DNA, according to information provided by the state Attorney General’s Office.

It is unknown how many of the CODIS hits have led to criminal charges.

Charging documents filed against Lay for raping T.R. attribute the delay in testing her rape kit to the statewide rape-kit backlog. But court records also show the state successfully argued a pretrial motion, barring the jury from hearing any evidence about why it took so long for Lay to be criminally charged.

Kays, a former prosecutor, said she’s grateful for the work done by the SPD detective who reopened T.R.’s rape case but said it’s concerning that police initially may have been biased against her client.

“Just because someone is homeless and maybe they struggle with substance abuse issues does not mean they are not as deserving of a rigorous investigation as somebody who lives in a nice home, in a nice neighborhood, and is stone-cold sober,” she said.