by Emily Blume
SPOKANE, Wash. — Last week, one of three cold case felonies have been solved in Washington since March.
With the help of forensic genetic genealogy, it is helping crack down on more cases similar to these ones.
It’s part of Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s Sexual Assault Kit initiative. He dedicated $290,000 to help local law enforcement agencies solve cold cases with sexual motivation.
They have solved three statewide cold cases and 20 are under investigation.
The cases include a 17-year-old rape victim in McLeary, Washington in 2003, a murder in Kitsap County in 1995 and four attacks in Pullman that were cold cases for almost 20 years.
The technology is helping people catch up with the different cases.
“I can tell you that our case, I don’t think it would have been solved without the forensic genetic genealogy,” Dan LeBeau, Chief Deputy Prosecutor of Whitman County, said. “Mr. Downing did not live in the area. He had only been working there briefly at the time, back in 2003 and 2004. Without the genealogy lead, I don’t know how we would have ever come across them.”
DNA profiles from sexual assault kits were uploaded to the national database with no match of a suspect. A new approach was introduced, which matched the DNA with profiles in public genealogy sites.
“Geneology research narrowed it down to 2 brothers in the Spokane area,” Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins said.
Based on the different suspect descriptions and other research from the construction company Kenneth Drowning was working for at the time, they were able to narrow it down to him. The DNA met traditional police work.
“We asked for assistance from the Spokane Police Department, Special Investigations Unit, who initiated surveillance on Mr. Downing and ultimately followed him to a restaurant in Spokane and where they were able to obtain some items Mr. Downing touched. From that DNA, we received a match on Mr. Downing,” Jenkins said.
Drowning pleaded guilty on Friday, giving hope for other unsolved crimes.
“I think we have delivered exceedingly well on the grant funds and getting the backlog of sexual assault kits, getting those tested, and now with this portion of our grants,” Ferguson said. “Obviously today, the results speak for themselves.”
If you have family members that did a genetic test on 23 and Me, you do not have to worry about them being arrested.
Most companies don’t give access to police without a search warrant. You can opt-out when you send in a saliva sample for a test.
The state still has resources for local law enforcement agencies to work on existing cold cases, still giving hope to sexual assault victims that it’s possible for their case to be solved in the future.