A 45-year-old man currently serving a 5 1/2-year prison sentence for an attempted robbery and assault in White Center was charged Monday with first-degree murder and first-degree rape, accused of raping and killing a woman in Federal Way in 2002 and raping a woman at gunpoint in Burien 16 years later, according to King County prosecutors.
Melvin Taylor Jr., currently an inmate at the Monroe Correctional Complex, pleaded guilty in May 2019 to trying to steal a woman’s purse at gunpoint outside a White Center restaurant the previous August, then firing at a man who came to the woman’s aid, court records show. As Taylor fled the scene, he fell, breaking his leg and injuring his hip, leading to his quick arrest by King County Sheriff’s deputies, who found his discarded gun in some nearby bushes, the records say.
As a result of his conviction last year, court records show Taylor was ordered to submit a sample of his DNA for entry into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a law enforcement DNA database operated by the FBI.
In May, scientists at the State Patrol Crime Lab notified Federal Way police detectives that Taylor’s DNA was matched to male DNA collected from the body of Linetra Thornton, a 43-year-old woman who was found dead by a landscaping crew behind a QFC grocery store in the 31200 block of Pacific Highway South on Feb. 4, 2002, charging papers say.
A week later, the crime lab informed detectives male DNA from the 2002 rape and homicide scene also matched DNA from a sexual assault kit collected by sheriff’s deputies during a May 2018 rape investigation, according to the charges.
Additional DNA testing was conducted over the summer, confirming the DNA from both cases matched Taylor’s DNA, say charging papers. Federal Way police referred a criminal case to prosecutors for a charging decision last week.
“The defendant is charged with two very violent crimes that have marked similarities despite being committed 16 years apart,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Mary Barbosa wrote of Taylor in the charges. “In both instances, the defendant targeted vulnerable, middle aged, small in stature women who were strangers to him and who lived and/or worked on the streets. The defendant is alleged to have raped both victims in alleys behind commercial buildings, in the late-night hours, removing their shoes and clothing in a very similar fashion.”
Court records do not yet indicate what attorney is representing Taylor, who remains in the custody of the state Department of Corrections, according to the department’s online inmate locator. Taylor is to be arraigned Jan. 7 at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.
According to the charges:
After Federal Way police were notified of the CODIS hits in the spring, a detective reviewed the case files for Thornton’s 2002 homicide and the sheriff’s investigation into the May 27, 2018 rape of a then 51-year-old woman near Burien City Hall.
Thornton’s body was found by the landscaping crew near the QFC loading dock on Feb. 4, 2002. She was half-naked and had been beaten. Investigators also found used condoms with blood and semen; the blood was later matched to Thornton’s DNA but the semen was from an unknown male identified only as “Individual A,” the charges say.
An autopsy found Thornton had multiple blunt force injuries to her head and an array of other injuries as well as evidence that she had been sexually assaulted. The medical examiner determined she died from asphyxia due to strangulation and ruled her death a homicide.
Police learned Thornton had been working in prostitution on Pacific Highway South and was last seen alive by a witness who saw her walking with a man toward the QFC a night or two before her body was discovered, according to the charges.
The charges note Thornton was under 5 feet tall and weighed less than 100 pounds.
The case eventually went inactive due to a lack of investigative leads.
On May 27, 2018, a woman who was staying in a tent and a women’s homeless shelter at the time was sitting on a bench outside Burien City Hall. She later told police a man she’d never seen before approached her, pressed a gun into her side and forced her into a nearby alley, where he raped her at gunpoint, the charges say. Following the attack, the woman asked a bystander to call 911, saying she needed to go to a hospital.
Male DNA from the woman’s rape kit was later matched to Taylor’s DNA after it was entered into CODIS following his 2019 conviction.
In July, a Federal Way detective contacted the woman, who now lives in Seattle, and she identified Taylor as her assailant from a police photo montage. The charges note she stands just over 5 feet tall.
The woman told the detective the rape had left her emotionally traumatized and she’s been prescribed medication for her resulting anxiety and depression.
In both rapes, the women’s pants and underwear were pulled off their right legs and left hanging from their left legs, prosecutors said.
Federal Way detectives met with Taylor at the prison in Monroe in November and police say he denied committing either crime. Police say he admitted to having had sex with women working in prostitution but claimed he’d never hurt anybody, charging papers say.
A cheek swab was taken from Taylor during his November interview to confirm the CODIS match to “Individual A.” Taylor’s DNA was a match and the detective determined probable cause existed that he raped and killed Thornton and committed the later rape in Burien, the charges say.