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Suspect in nearly 20-year Pullman rape cold case pleads guilty

Kenneth Downing accepted a plea deal and pleaded guilty to four counts of first-degree rape and one count of second-degree assault with sexual motivation.

WHITMAN COUNTY, Wash. — Content warning: This story contains details about sexual violence that may be disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.

The man accused of breaking into multiple women's homes and sexually assaulting them accepted a plea deal on July 8, pleading guilty to four counts of first-degree rape and one count of second-degree assault with sexual motivation.

47-year-old Kenneth Downing of Elk was accused of sexually assaulting multiple women in the early 2000s. He was arrested on March 17 at a job site in Spokane after Pullman police discovered his DNA matched evidence collected at multiple crime scenes. 

According to Whitman County prosecutors, Downing broke into a woman's home in downtown Pullman in 2003. Court documents state the woman was home alone sleeping when she heard the floor creaking. Her bedroom door was opened and Downing allegedly pointed a gun at her, asked if anyone else was home and proceeded to sexually assault her multiple times.

The prosecutor said Downing told the victim he would be back in Pullman in two months, warning her not to report the assault to anyone because "he knew people."

Months later in 2004, court documents state Downing broke into another apartment with two women inside. One of the women reportedly grabbed a knife, but dropped it when she realized Downing was holding a gun.

He then tied up one woman and sexually assaulted the other, according to court documents.

The Pullman Police Department held on to DNA evidence collected at the crime scenes for 18 years. Eventually, new technology made it possible for investigators to enter the DNA into a genealogy database and developed a profile that led to Downing.

As a result of the plea, Downing faces 17 years to life in prison. If released, he would be required to register as a sex offender and will be on lifetime supervision by the Washington State Department of Corrections. All survivors will also receive a lifetime protection order against Downing.

"The survivor's remarkable courage and fortitude made this outcome possible," said Dan LeBeau, Whitman County's Chief Deputy Prosecutor. "I am grateful for their support of this resolution which will spare them having to recount their assaults at trial. I will argue for the maximum penalty allowed by law under his guilty plea."

Downing's sentencing is scheduled for August 19, 2022.

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