SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash — Warning: This article discusses sexual abuse of a child and may be disturbing to some readers. Reader discretion is advised.
The suspect in a 20-year-old child rape investigation finally went to court in Spokane County.
According to law enforcement, it’s thanks to the continued testing of backlogged rape kits at the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab.
According to the Spokane County Sheriff's Office, Richard Johnson, 53, faces charges of rape of a child and unlawful imprisonment.
The charges stem from an August 2002 case when Johnson allegedly sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl at a park in Elk.
A rape kit was gathered, but it would sit for years as part of the backlog of rape kits at the crime lab.
SCSO Undersheriff John Nowels said, “There's always a little bit of frustration, knowing that that evidence could be there right in your hands, and you just don't know it.”
The Washington state legislature made it a requirement for law enforcement to submit all sexual assault kits to the crime lab for processing.
"But at the same time, also provided the funding and the technology and equipment and the personnel to start working on the backlog of almost 10,000 cases that existed at the time,” added Nowels.
According to state statistics, of the 9,232 kits backlogged, 5,129 have been fully tested as of Oct. 31 of 2021, more than half of the backlog.
In this particular investigation, the rape kit would be tested in 2020. Months later, a match for Johnson's DNA was found.
According to SCSO, he was arrested last week in a traffic stop.
Erin Williams is the Inland Northwest director of Lutheran Community Services, an organization whose services include providing resources for sexual assault victims and a sexual assault 24-hour support hotline.
She said the continued work on the backlog is incredibly important.
"It is no small feat to come forward and report a sexual assault," Williams said. "So, respecting that evidence, respecting the survivor’s experience and time, is an incredibly meaningful and important change."
"This is going to allow us to kind of reach back into the past and bring justice for people who haven't had it for a long time. So, maybe our victim can start to heal,” said Undersheriff Nowels.
Johnson remains in jail on a $50,000 bond.
His next court appearance is his arraignment next Tuesday on May 3.
For information about Lutheran Community Services and their sexual assault resources, click here.