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Assailants Free, But Victim Still Serves Sentence

Gary Scott Cunningham doesn’t want this column to see the light of day.

Recently freed from prison, he and his accomplice, Douglas James Dennis, hoped to slither quietly back into Spokane.

Unfortunately for this pair, the Washington Department of Corrections makes public the names of all Class-A felons uncaged from the penal system. These two stand out from the pack, as you’ll soon see.

I couldn’t locate Dennis. When I tracked down Cunningham for an interview, he brought his wife and her child to the newspaper to tell my editor to kill the story.

Cunningham figures he paid his debt to society. Ten years behind bars makes what happened old news.

The young woman these losers kidnapped, raped and sodomized got a bitter laugh out of that.

If only there were a magic day of freedom. The hard truth for sexual assault victims, however, is that their sentences go on and on.

On March 19, 1985, the late Judge John J. Lally tried to educate Cunningham and Dennis on the consequences of their repellent behavior moments before he sent them to the slammer.

“The tragedy of the situation we have here is reenacted on more than one occasion,” said the judge. “The harm it has done to the victims is almost impossible to calculate.”

Call this victim Tina.

She doesn’t want her real name used. Fear is one of many scars she still bears.

“I don’t walk around in a parking lot without thinking about what happened,” she said. “I always keep my phone unlisted. I get a little paranoid if people get too close. I try to be careful.”

She paused. “It’s always in the back of my mind.”

Tina was a 17-year-old Mead High School honor student when the world caved in the afternoon of Nov. 30, 1984.

“She was an all-American kid,” said her grandmother. “She pulled in quite a bit afterward. She doesn’t go out much at night.”

As Tina stepped from her car in the high school parking lot, Cunningham, 18, and Dennis, 17, hit like two hungry sharks.

For days, they planned to kidnap and rape someone. When they saw Tina, one of them said, “Here’s our chance.”

Dennis jammed a gun barrel in Tina’s ribs, pushed her back into her car. It was a pellet gun, but Tina was too scared to know the difference. She just remembers hearing them tell her to shut up or they’d break her neck.

They drove her to a secluded road. Cunningham held her down while Dennis raped her. Then Cunningham took his turn.

When the savage business ended, they left Tina standing half naked by a tree. They tossed her clothes on the ground and drove away in her car.

“I was a little surprised they let me go,” she said. “One of the last things I said to them was, ‘I don’t have to find you because God will.’ One of them just turned around and laughed.”

Cunningham and Dennis later hired a friend to burn the car to get rid of the evidence.

If there is any sweetness in this story, it is how these two got nailed. The police didn’t find them, Tina did.

She was Christmas shopping with her father. They drove up a street just in time to see Cunningham and Dennis walking out of a North Francis house.

Her attackers were arrested and quickly spilled their guts. Judge Lally found their near hourlong assault so disgusting he handed out an exceptionally long sentence of 15 years apiece.

Cunningham and Dennis appealed, claiming what they did “was no more serious than the typical rape.” Appeal denied. The pair served 10 years, getting five off for good behavior.

Nobody in the so-called justice system bothered to tell Tina that Cunningham and Dennis - two registered sex offenders - were back on the street.

Justice? Ten years in prison may sound like an eternity to some people.

But they don’t have a clue what it’s like to live with something like this, says Tina. “They just don’t know.”