WASHINGTON — Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced the state's first convictions and sentencing as a result of a new forensic genetic genealogy program that helped solved multiple cold cases.
Ferguson said the funding, provided by the United States Department of Justice, was instrumental in solving a 2003 violent rape of a 17-year-old in McCleary, 2003 and 2004 home invasion sexual assaults in Pullman, and a 1995 murder in Kitsap County.
The cases did not have active leads and were unsolved for years before Ferguson's office was involved. The DNA profiles were uploaded to CODIS, the national criminal DNA database, with no results.
The process starts with a genealogist uploading DNA evidence to a public DNA database that allows access to its data. Once uploaded, the genealogist uses the information to construct a family tree to identify potential suspects who may not have a DNA profile available.
Authorities made their first conviction and sentencing due to results from the genetic genealogy program on Friday.
Grays Harbor County Superior Court judge sentenced Paul J. Bieker to 30 years in prison for the 2003 abduction and rape of the girl in McCleary.
On the same day, Kenneth Downing pleaded guilty in Whitman County to four counts of first-degree rape and one count of second-degree assault with sexual motivation in connection to a pair of Pullman home invasions in 2003 and 2004. Both home invasions resulted in "violent" rapes, authorities said.
“This sends a message to survivors that we will not give up on cold cases,” Ferguson said. "My office will continue this initiative to help law enforcement close these cases.”
'We never give up on these cases'
The Grays Harbor County Sheriff's Office started investigating the rape of a girl in March 2003.
Investigators said the suspect, now identified as Bieker, abducted the 17-year-old after she parked her car at a home in McCleary, according to the initial 2010 arrest warrant.
Investigators said Bieker taped her head and hands with zip-ties so tight it cut the circulation off from her hands, duct-taped her hoodie to her face, then bound her legs and put her in the trunk of her own car. The suspect drove her to a remote location where he raped her, according to police.
After the assault, he drove her near her home and told her if she told anyone about what happened, "her dad would be dead and the house would be burned down and the rest of her life would be miserable.”
Her father told law enforcement officers she had duct tape on her and nylon wire tied around her ankles. Officials said her father cut the zip-ties, locked the door and closed the windows because he was afraid Bieker was watching them.
Police compared the genetic evidence to databases available at the time but found no matches.
With no suspect at the time, the county issued an arrest warrant for a “John Doe” and the case went cold for 18 years until a detective applied for more testing in 2020.
The new genetic testing program narrowed authorities' search to three brothers. Investigators focused on Paul, who also lived in McLeary near the survivor's home at the time of the rape.
Detectives followed Bieker to a Starbucks and the Point Defiance Zoo on Memorial Day weekend in 2021. He left behind a coffee cup that allowed authorities to pull DNA from.
Later, the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab confirmed the DNA results were a match to the 2003 crime scene. The match was so solid that a June 15, 2021 motion to the court said the chances of it not being Bieker were “one in 35 quadrillion.”
Jason Walker, chief criminal deputy prosecutor with the Grays Harbor Prosecutor's Office, said the case would have been nearly impossible to solve without the new DNA testing program.
After the positive match, Grays Harbor County detectives arrested Bieker in McCleary and charged him with the 2003 crime. He will spend the next 30 years in prison.
“We never give up on these cases," said Darrin Wallace, chief investigations deputy with the Grays Harbor Sheriff's Office. "(The victim) grabbed me by the arm and she was just trembling. She asked, ‘did he follow you here?’ She’s been living this crime every day.”
Walker called the 2003 rape "deliberately cruel" and "vile."
"Every time the lights go down in a movie theater she's afraid she's going to hear his voice," Walker said. "Every time she steps out of her house after dark. Every time she steps out of her car."
Violent Pullman home invasions
Investigators said a man, now identified as Kenneth Downing, broke into a Pullman home in 2003 and threatened a woman at gunpoint before sexually assaulting her three times. The victim told police Downing made small talk and asked about her pets.
One year later, another home invasion was reported at a Pullman apartment. Police said Downing tied up one of the roommates and raped the other woman.
Investigators interviewed dozens of suspects, but the case went unsolved for almost two decades.
“It is due to the courage and tenacity of the survivors that we are here today. Under threat of a gun, and at one point a knife, they were able to secure descriptions of the suspect," said Dan LeBeau, chief deputy prosecutor with the Whitman County Prosecutor's Office.
Forensic genetic genealogy testing narrowed the search down to two brothers in the Spokane area.
Investigators said Kenneth Downing was found to be living in Spokane at the time of the crimes and the construction company he was employed with was working in Pullman.
DNA lifted from an item Downing touched matched the results from the home invasions in 2003 and 2004, according to investigators.
Downing pleaded guilty July 8 to four counts of first-degree rape and one count of second-degree assault with sexual motivation.
A Whitman County Superior Court judge will sentence Downing on Aug. 19 in connection to the crimes. He faces between 17-23 years in prison.
"We found justice for the survivors in this case," said Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins.
1995 Kitsap County murder solved
The same program that resulted in the state's first sentencing and convictions helped solve a 1995 murder in Kitsap County.
Kitsap County Sheriff John Gese said Douglas Keith Krohne is suspected of killing 61-year-old Patricia Lorraine Barnes. Krohne died in 2016.
Barnes' body was found unclothed and partially covered by a passerby along a rural road in Kitsap County in August 1995, according to the Kitsap County Sheriff's Office. Barnes was reportedly shot in the head twice.
Future of genetic genealogy program
The attorney general's forensic genetic genealogy program has assisted with 23 cold case investigations across the state. Ferguson said the results from the program may result in future arrests and convictions in the other 20 cases.
The Attorney General’s Office allotted $292,275 to assist local law enforcement agencies with felony cold case investigations through forensic genetic genealogy testing. There is about $170,000 left in the grant to help law enforcement agencies investigate more cold cases.
Ferguson said program resources are reserved for unsolved cold cases of felony crimes with sexual motivation. The cases must have no active leads and no CODIS matches to be eligible for genetic testing.