Corrections system and Seattle police failed rape victim and delayed bringing her rapist to justice, lawsuit says

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

After the defendant’s first trial ended in a lawsuit in July 2019, a second jury from the King County Superior Court deliberated for two hours on October 6, before ruling 51-year-old Jonnie Lay (aka Johnny Lay) second for rape The now 59-year-old woman was found guilty of a degree, court records show.

But Lay, a sex offender with a 1990 criminal history, wasn’t in court to hear the verdict. Lay was released from prison in April because of the COVID pandemic. He attended his trial but then spent more than a month in the wind before being arrested on November 23 on a $ 500,000 warrant for being found in a tent near Woodland Park Zoo According to court records and the victim’s attorney, Julie Kays.

Lay is due to be sentenced on Feb.5, with the state recommending that he sit in prison for just over 11 years, which is the high end of the standard sentencing range, according to court records.

Lay’s defense attorney Reid Burkland declined to comment on the case or the defense’s penalty recommendation.

In a lawsuit filed against the state and city earlier this month, Kays alleges the State Department of Corrections (DOC) failed to properly monitor Lay in the years leading up to the 2007 rape, thereby giving him an opportunity to see her client rape when he should have been in jail. The lawsuit also alleges that the Seattle Police Department (SPD) did not pursue any investigative leads – including DNA evidence – that may have led to Lay’s arrest years before he was charged with rape in 2018 and extradited from Illinois. Instead, the lead detective who originally assigned the case disabled the investigation within weeks of the initial report, without consulting the victim according to the lawsuit.

Although the victim is named in the lawsuit, the Seattle Times generally does not identify victims of sex crimes. Court files in criminal and civil cases refer to them with their initials TR

“She feels so betrayed by the Seattle Police Department for not testing her rape kit at the time. It is an institutional betrayal, ”said Kays. “She doesn’t want any other woman or man to go through what they have to go through and waits for more than a decade for justice.”

Dan Nolte, a spokesman for the Seattle prosecutor who represents the city’s civil law departments, including the police department, said in an email he was aware of the lawsuit on behalf of TR

“We recently received this lawsuit and we will certainly investigate the plaintiff’s claims,” ​​Nolte wrote.

Citing DOC records showing Lay “poorly” complied with his community oversight requirements, the lawsuit alleged that DOC’s negligence resulted in Lay treating the oversight as a joke since he was before I continued to bring criminal charges against him, including raping TR for domestic violence

According to the lawsuit, Lay has been under active DOC supervision since 1995.

In 1999, he was charged with rape of a third degree 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 lesser charges of third-degree sexually motivated assault and was listed as a level 1 sex offender, a classification considered the least likely to be reoffended, as evidenced by court files in the state’s verdict in TR’s rape case.

“DOC kept looking the other way, failing to get arrest warrants in time and on countless occasions, and generally making Lay’s supervision look nothing more than a joke,” Kays wrote in the lawsuit.

Citing DOC records, Kays quoted a DOC official who wrote in 2002: “Lay is a repentant man who blames his many victims and smokes crack cocaine under supervision,” according to the TR civil suit.

In 2006, a year before TR was raped, a DOC community correction officer noted, “Mr. Lay’s behavior shows his attitude towards the rule of law and his registration requirements [as a sex offender]: it couldn’t interest him any less, ”the lawsuit said.

“The department is aware of the lawsuit and has no comment on any pending litigation,” DOC’s interim communications manager Susan Biller wrote in an email.

No dollar amount is specified in the lawsuit for damages. Kays said her client would like to leave that decision to the jury, who hears her lawsuit, which could only be brought after Lay was found guilty in the criminal case.

A vulnerable victim

TR, a mother of two, hit rock bottom in early 2007: her marriage broke down, she was physically disabled due to an accident at work, she lost her home, and lived in a homeless shelter for women where she was introduced according to drug charges and summary the trial evidence from the state contained in the verdict.

According to court records:

TR was walking near Second Avenue and Pike Street when an old white Cadillac pulled up next to her on March 14, 2007. One man – Jonnie Lay – got out and pulled her into the back seat.

The Cadillac driver dropped Lay and TR in a wooded area, where Lay held them to the ground and raped them and threatened to stab them with a screwdriver if she continued fighting him.

She later told police that her rapist had made derogatory comments on women and said to her, “If she walked around, she should expect this type of treatment,” the charges state.

After Lay called the Cadillac driver to pick him up, he again raped TR in the back seat of the vehicle. During the attack, Lay dropped his ID and TR read his name. Lay threatened to kill her if she told anyone about the rapes and told TR it was easy to find her because he knew she would stay at the shelter.

At one point, Lay tried to force TR to work for him as a prostitute, but she told him he had to kill her first.

A few hours later the Cadillac TR dropped off at Olympic Sculpture Park on Western Avenue. Until then it was March 15th.

TR made her way back to the shelter, where she reported the rape of her caseworker and together called 911, according to TR’s civil complaint.

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

On the drive to the hospital, the officer told TR that her case had nowhere to go because her complaint said she was a homeless drug user.

The case was assigned to a detective in the sexual assault department of the SPD on March 19, 2007: The detective went through Lay’s name in a criminal history database and learned that Lay was a homeless sex offender under active DOC supervision, the lawsuit says who has favourited copies of the police search results. TR’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 TR could get an ID and didn’t reach out to Lay’s DOC correction officer, who met with Lay the week before the rape to ask about Lay’s whereabouts According to the lawsuit.

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

The lawsuit alleges that the detective did “what was necessary” to contact TR, leave her a voice message, and send her a letter that she did not receive.

A few weeks later, the detective marked TR’s rape case as inactive, the lawsuit said.

Given Lay’s long criminal history prior to TR’s rape, his DNA profile was already on the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), an FBI-operated law enforcement DNA database.

If TR’s rape kit had been sent to the crime lab for testing, male DNA from TR’s body would have been quickly matched with Lay’s profile in CODIS, the lawsuit said.

Instead, TR had to live with the fear that her rapist might find and kill her, Kays wrote in the lawsuit. “For over a decade, TR felt humiliated, dismissed, and the respondent’s cruel words were true: she didn’t matter, she was just a homeless rape victim.”

Until the legislation came into force in July 2015, it was up to the individual officers or detectives to decide whether a rape kit should be submitted for review. The decision to request testing often depended on whether police believed a victim’s account or found them credible enough to testify in court, the Seattle Times reported in 2016.

Legislators revoked this discretion and required that each new rape kit be submitted for testing and funds allocated for testing rape kits that had sometimes been lying untouched in police evidence holdings for decades.

As of November, 5,096 of the 10,311 previously untested rape kits found nationwide had been submitted for DNA analysis: Of the 1,959 DNA profiles entered into CODIS from the newly tested kits, 869 – or just over 45% – to CODIS “hit” on known perpetrator DNA according to the public prosecutor’s office.

It is not known how many of the CODIS hits resulted in criminal charges.

TR’s rape indictments against Lay attribute the delay in testing their rape kit to the nationwide backlog of rape kits. However, court records also show the state successfully filed a motion in court prohibiting the jury from hearing evidence of why it took Lay so long to be prosecuted.

Kays, a former prosecutor, said she was grateful for the work of the SPD detective who reopened TR’s rape case, but said it was worrying that the police might initially have been biased against her client.

“Just because someone is homeless and may have drug problems doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a rigorous investigation as someone who lives in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood and is freezing cold,” she said.