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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Entire Washington State sexual assault kit backlog sent for testing, 21 cases solved

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

The sexual assault kit backlog in Washington State has largely been cleared, with more than 10,000 kits sent off for testing and at least 21 cases solved, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Thursday.

“Effectively ending our sexual assault kit backlog is a historic step toward justice – but our work on behalf of survivors is not done,” Ferguson said in a news release. “Through this collective effort, we ensured that survivors’ voices are heard, reformed a broken system, improved testing times, and solved crimes. This success proves that government can solve big problems when we work together.”

Of the 21 cases solved, seven were in Spokane county.

The initiative to get all of Washington’s sexual assault kits tested dates back to 2015 when the Legislature passed a law requiring law enforcement to submit all kits for testing within 30 days of their receipt. The lab then has 45 days to test the kit.

The next year, the Legislature created a tracking system for survivors to see what phase their kits are in from hospital to CODIS entry.

In 2017, Ferguson applied for and received a $3 million grant from the United States Department of Justice Sexual Assault Kit Initiative.

A new lab was built in Vancouver in 2019 , allowing for more kits to be tested.

That same year, Ferguson convened an advisory group to help improve all aspects of sexual assault investigations.

“When I was assaulted in 2014, I struggled to convince law enforcement to test my sexual assault kit,” said Leah Griffin, a member of the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Advisory Group. “To the over 10,000 other survivors who shared my experience, I want you to know that this was not your fault. You were not uncooperative. The system was not designed for you, which is why I’m so proud of the work that has been led by survivors in partnership with Attorney General Bob Ferguson to ensure that no survivor in Washington will ever struggle again to have the evidence of their assault tested.”

Spokane cases

DNA from a 2004 rape kit matched that of Scott Raymond Halvorson. Halvorson was set to be released from McNeil Island Special Commitment Center where he was civilly committed after being convicted of raping at least three other people, including a 4-year-old and a 10-year-old.

The CODIS hit came just weeks before his scheduled release. Halvorson is now awaiting trial for the 2004 Spokane rape of a 52-year-old woman who was a sex worker at the time. Halvorson tried to strangle her, she told police.

“I thought I was dead,” she told officers at the time.

DNA from an April 1994 sexual assault kit matched DNA from a 1979 cold case homicide in Lake Tahoe, California. The match led to the arrest of Harold Carpenter in Spokane. Carpenter is awaiting trial for the killing.

In July 2013, a 16-year-old girl was sexually assaulted in her garage by a family friend, Robert E. Ford. She reported the assault, and a sexual assault kit was collected.

Ford was arrested, but charges were dismissed and the kit was never tested. When tested in 2018, the kit matched Ford. He pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and communicating with a minor for immoral purposes, and was sentenced to 60 days in jail in November 2022.

An 8-year-old boy witnessed a family member, Brandon L. Torres, sexually assault a 3-year-old family member at a park. The boy ran home and told his mother, who took the girl in for a sexual assault examination.

The accusation was deemed unfounded, and the case was closed before the kit was sent for testing. In 2018, the kit was tested and matched to a reference sample from Torres.

He pleaded guilty to second-degree child rape in September 2020 and was sentenced to more than eight years in prison.

Three additional Spokane cases were also solved through the program.