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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Pullman spree rapist gets life in prison for ‘heinous, premeditated, deliberately cruel’ crimes

Aug. 19, 2022 Updated Fri., Aug. 19, 2022 at 10:04 p.m.

By Nick Gibson For The Spokesman-Review

A man convicted of a series of rapes and home invasions in Pullman nearly two decades ago was sentenced to life in prison Friday in Whitman County Superior Court.

Kenneth Downing, 47, of Elk, was convicted of four counts of rape in the first degree and one count of assault in the second degree with sexual motivation for his crimes committed in downtown Pullman during the fall of 2003 and spring of 2004. Superior Court Judge Gary Libey sentenced Downing to life in prison, with a minimum of 23 years behind bars. Downing will not be eligible for parole until 2046.

Downing initially faced four counts of first-degree rape, three counts of second-degree assault, three counts of unlawful imprisonment, two counts of first-degree burglary and one count of indecent liberties. He pleaded guilty to the charges he was convicted of as part of a plea deal offered with support of the three victims, who all made statements anonymously via Zoom during the sentencing hearing Friday.

The first incident occurred in November 2003 when Downing broke into a 23-year-old WSU student’s home in downtown Pullman and raped her at gunpoint multiple times. Downing had been working a construction job in the area and was staying at a nearby hotel when he noticed the victim days earlier, according to court documents.

Downing entered the woman’s home just before midnight donned in a black ski mask and armed with a rope, flashlight and a handgun.

The woman thought it was a burglary and said in her statement to the court that she initially offered him her wallet. When he refused the money, she said she knew what his intentions were and began thinking of her family, as she was certain she would die that night.

He asked the woman if there was anyone else in the house while holding her at gunpoint, to which she replied her boyfriend was there. He then forced her to lead him through the house to determine if they were alone.

Downing grew angry that the woman had lied about someone being home, and raped her the first time. After making small talk and asking about her pets, Downing raped her again. He then collected his things, removed the batteries from her house phone and cell phone, and threatened the woman not to report anything as he knew important people and would be back in a few months.

Downing then went upstairs to make it appear he had left. When the woman exited her basement bedroom to see if he had left, Downing was standing at the top of the stairs and told her not to do that again, before raping her a third time. He then left.

The woman drove to a local emergency room following the incident, where a sexual assault exam was performed and a DNA sample obtained. The Pullman Police Department was not able to locate a match for the DNA sample until almost two decades later, thanks to new genetic technology that helped identify Downing as the perpetrator.

In her statement to the court, the woman described years of trauma and resulting therapy from the incident. She said she never feels safe in her own home, and her close friends and family have all been seriously affected by Downing’s actions.

“I have spent an unquantifiable amount of time and energy over these years attempting to mitigate the effects of this experience,” she said. “It was through this experience that I realized anything sacred and safe could immediately be ripped away.”

The second incident occurred just a few months later in March 2004. Downing was staying in a Pullman motel and again noticed two young female college students lived in a nearby residence days before breaking into the house, tying one up and raping the other at gunpoint.

Downing entered the students’ home through a window around 1 a.m., armed with a rope, flashlight, knife and handgun. The students, who were 19 at the time, had just returned home from watching a movie at a neighbor’s house when they discovered Downing, wearing a black ski mask, inside.

Downing held the two women at gunpoint while he collected all of the phones in the house and removed all of the lightbulbs. He then held them captive in one of the bedrooms for over an hour while attempting to make small talk, before ordering them to remove their clothing. When one of the women refused, Downing brandished the knife.

The other woman told Downing she would cooperate if he did not rape her roommate, with whom she had been childhood friends since the third grade. Downing agreed and forced the woman to duct tape her roommate to a chair outside the bedroom. The roommate was able to free her hands, but Downing returned to check on her, became angry and took her into the bedroom, where he tied her to the bed with the rope.

Downing then took the woman who said she would cooperate into the other bedroom and raped her. He left shortly after, while the roommate hid in a bathroom.

The women, after determining Downing had left, called a neighbor who then called the Pullman Police Department. Both women were taken to a local hospital, where the victim submitted to a sexual assault exam and another DNA sample was obtained, matching the sample from the November 2003 incident.

Both women said in their statements that the incident forever changed their lives and their relationship. Individually, they stressed that the time that has passed did not diminish the impact of the crime and asked Libey to give a maximum sentence. Both women moved away from Pullman following the incident and dropped out of WSU.

“When [Downing] broke into my home and violently attacked my roommate and best friend, he ripped away my sense of safety and security you take for granted in our own home,” one of the women said. “After inflicting pain and suffering, Kenneth Downing disappeared into the night. Not only did he inflict this horrible trauma on us, but no one was held accountable for this horrific crime.”

After thoroughly investigating both incidents, police identified several suspects, all of whom were ruled out through further investigation or DNA testing. The case went cold until the Pullman Police Department opened a forensic genetic genealogy investigation in 2020.

The forensic genealogical program, funded by the Attorney General’s Office, uses DNA profiles from unknown offenders and public databases to locate family members and identify potential suspects. Investigators were able to identify the family tree the sample belonged to, and identified Downing as the perpetrator through further investigation.

Downing was arrested and charged with the crimes in March 2022, over 18 years after the first incident. His wife, three of his five children, and his nephew said in statements before the court Friday that they had no idea of his crimes, or his capacity to commit them, until Downing was arrested.

In interviews with detectives and his statement to the court Friday, Downing repeatedly said he never intended to harm anyone and blamed his addiction to pornography at the time as the motivating cause. He told detectives he “foolishly thought he could make them feel good.”

Downing asked for forgiveness and a sentence that reflected he is a devout Christian and a changed man, in his statement Friday. His wife of 25 years, Katrina Downing, told the court she was pregnant with their fifth child at the time of the incidents and had no knowledge of his crimes until his arrest. She said he has been a good father who raised kids to have morals, and asked Libey to take that into consideration during sentencing.

Libey determined the acts were premeditated and gave Downing the maximum sentence recommended by the state. He said Downing’s repeated claim of intending no harm was “extremely offensive language,” and said he could not imagine a more terrifying situation than what the women endured.

“Even though in Mr. Downing’s mind he never intended to harm someone, he certainly harmed three people and their families forever,” Libey said. “You harmed your own family, I see your wife in here, your children. The harm you’ve done by these very heinous, premeditated, deliberately cruel rapes of three innocent young women, whose lives have been turned upside down and whose families lives have been turned upside down. You’ve turned upside down a lot of lives.”

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