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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Last of Spokane rape kits set to be sent out for testing

The backlog in testing rape kits in Washington has largely been cleared.  (Steve Ringman/Seattle Times)

The end of Spokane’s rape-kit backlog is in sight, with the last 87 kits packaged and ready to be sent out for testing.

Nearly 10,000 previously untested rape kits have been submitted for testing in Washington state since 2017 as part of the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative.

Police are required by the state to submit every sexual assault evidence kit in their possession for DNA testing, with the goal to clear out the backlog of thousands of kits sitting in evidence lockers.

With more than $3 million in funding from the United States Department of Justice, the Washington State Attorney General’s office helped lead the lengthy process.

Spokane is one of the few agencies statewide that assigned people to work on the project full time.

The city was awarded multiple grants from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs that helped pay for Sgt. Zac Storment and Detective Paul Lebsock to work on the case backlog starting in 2021.

Hiring enough people to work the cases after test results come back has been one of the biggest barriers to pursuing new leads, law enforcement agencies across the state said.

“We’re very fortunate that we had admin wanting to put people in the spot to do this,” Storment said. “Staffing is always a problem.”

Spokane Police sent approximately 1,500 kits dating back to 1981 out for testing, which led to about 250 matches in the federal DNA database called CODIS. The last of those kits are packaged and ready to be sent out, Storment said.

“Right now, the end is starting to materialize,” Storment said.

Across the state, 7,178 kits have been tested and reviewed, and 2,783 have been tested and are awaiting review, according to the Attorney General’s office. There have been 1,776 matches to DNA records in CODIS. Those matches don’t mean that the cases are solved, however.

Some of those matches, like that of Harold Carpenter, who was arrested Monday, were between cases entered into CODIS. Not all of those matches lead to a suspect, but they can be helpful in linking cases.

Dedicating personnel to the new leads has led to several cases being solved in Spokane.

Scott Raymond Halvorson was just weeks away from release from the McNeil Island Special Commitment Center when a recently tested rape kit linked him to a 2004 rape in Spokane.

Halvorson was already convicted of multiple rapes dating back to 1988. He has since been charged with the 2004 rape and is awaiting trial.

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office also has solved cases through the program.

53-year-old Richard J. Johnson was arrested and charged with child rape last year after a rape kit from 2002 matched to him.

While there have only been a few cases solved with results from the program in Spokane, Storment is hopeful that as other law enforcement agencies in Washington and across the country get their kits tested and upload results to CODIS, more matches could materialize.

“There’s still a lot of agencies in Washington that have yet to do this, so maybe there will be more hits,” Storment said.