Investigators then had such grave doubts about what they described as her ever-changing story, they charged her with false reporting. She wound up pleading guilty.
Now, three years later, Lynnwood police are trying to clear the woman's record after a suspected serial rapist was arrested in Colorado.
They've also reopened their old rape investigation.
"We were wrong. Everybody feels terrible about it," Lynnwood Police Chief Steve Jensen said Tuesday. "We take sexual assaults very seriously. Our investigators always get charged up to get the bad guys in these cases.
"We're doing our best to make it right," he said.
Lynnwood detectives think they have a good suspect in Marc P. O'Leary, 32. The former south Snohomish County man is jailed in Denver with his bail set at $5 million. Police say he is suspected of sexual attacks on four Denver-area women.
"I think we have a lot of strong evidence linking him to our case," Lynnwood police Cmdr. Steve Rider said Tuesday.
Detectives in 2008 didn't know about O'Leary. They interviewed the woman, then 18, several times and opened a rape investigation.
Her story changed and details appeared to be inconsistent, Jensen said. People who know the woman also spoke to detectives and expressed doubts about the woman's story, Jensen said.
The woman was charged with false reporting. She was represented by a public defender and eventually pleaded guilty in Lynnwood Municipal Court. A judge granted her a deferred sentence and she was ordered to undergo mental health counseling and pay a $500 fine. The charge was dismissed in April 2010 once the woman met all the conditions of her sentence.
"Suffice it to say, certain pieces of information just led investigators to the wrong conclusion," Rider said, declining to discuss specifics.
A few weeks ago, Lynnwood detectives received a call from authorities in Colorado.
What they heard about the serial rape suspect there convinced them they needed to board a plane to Denver. Rider and Sgt. Rod Cohnheim came back compelled to take a fresh look at the 2008 rape report.
"We developed enough information to reopen our case and it is now under investigation," Rider said.
O'Leary lived in the Mountlake Terrace area before moving to Colorado in 2009.
Detectives in Colorado provided information to the Lynnwood police that was strikingly similar to the story told by the woman in 2008. There was forensic evidence collected during the investigation in Lynnwood three years ago. Police here likely will now submit it for testing.
The woman is cooperating with Lynnwood investigators, Jensen said. She has met with the department's domestic violence advocate and also has been referred to Family and Friends of Violent Crime Victims, an Everett-based advocacy group.
"First and foremost, our priority is protecting the privacy of the victim. She doesn't want a lot of media attention thrown her way," Rider said.
The woman already has been reimbursed for the $500 fine she paid, Jensen said. Her wrongful conviction won't be expunged until a lawyer makes a motion on her behalf.
Lynnwood investigators have spoken with Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe. The prosecutor's sexual assault unit has opened a file on the case. It will be up to them to decide if there is enough evidence to file charges against the suspect.
Jensen said the suspect may fall under investigation for other assaults in Washington.
">The Denver Post reported that investigators say the attacker there made his victims brush their teeth and shower to destroy trace evidence. He also allegedly removed bed covers and clothing and hid their phones so they couldn't call police. Police also are reviewing photos of women, some of whom are believed to be victims, seized from O'Leary's home.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, firstname.lastname@example.org
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