Why it took investigators 20 years to solve a child rape cold case

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office recently arrested Richard James Johnson for a 20 year old rape cold case. Investigators say Johnson lured a young girl into his truck and raped her at Elk Park in 2002.

A rape kit was collected at the time, but investigators had limited details about the suspect. With no good leads, the case went cold for several years.

The state lab is also dealing with a backlog of testing rape kits.

“There’s all sorts of cases, homicides, missing persons, things like that could utilize DNA technology, and the need for DNA testing and profiling just wasn’t enough capacity in the system to test everything that should have been tested,” Spokane County Undersheriff John Nowels said.

In 2016, new legislation passed that required the backlog to be tested. It also gave more funding to hire scientists and increase lab capacity by almost 10,000.

“There’s always the need to prioritize which kits are tested for which crimes and certain factors within those crimes sometimes determine which tests are done with priority,” Nowels said.

The sheriff’s office began submitting its backlog and scientists developed a DNA profile in 2019. The Combined DNA Index System matched to Johnson’s profile in 2020.

Recently, the Spokane Police Department pulled over a car with Johnson in the passenger’s seat. Johnson was arrested, and the next day a detective on the case requested to speak with Johnson who then admitted to the crime.

It was a challenge tracking down Johnson because he was listed as a transient.

“Moving place to place certainly makes it more complicated trying to find someone. I know we had enlisted the help of some investigators from the Attorney General’s Office trying to find him. He had frustrated investigators for a while trying to locate him and pin him down so to speak,” Nowels said.

Court documents show the Sheriff’s Office recently contacted the victim who says she wants to proceed with the case.

READ: Spokane deputies arrest suspect in 2002 child rape cold case