The court concluded that a person can be charged with rape outside the statute of limitations if the suspect isn't conclusively identified until later.
Michael McConnell is serving 13 years for the violent attack against a teacher at Discovery Elementary School. The woman was sexually assaulted at gunpoint in her classroom as she prepared for summer school.
The case was cold for more than a dozen years, but in 2011 McConnell was identified as the rapist when a sample of his DNA matched genetic evidence collected during the investigation. He was charged with first-degree rape.
McConnell, 33, moved to have the case thrown out, arguing that time had run out for prosecutors to charge him.
Generally, prosecutors have 10 years from when a rape is committed to file a charge. However, there is some leeway in cases where the suspect hasn't been identified. Prosecutors argued that the law allows them to file charges a year from when a suspect is "conclusively identified" through DNA testing.
McConnell's lawyers contended that the case could have been charged much earlier using the unique DNA profile first identified in 1998. Prosecutors didn't have the man's name, but they could have charged it anyway, simply identifying the suspect using a genetic profile, as they have done in other cases, the defense argued.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss refused to throw out the charge. McConnell opted for a bench trial and in 2012 Weiss found McConnell guilty of first-degree rape.
McConnell filed an appeal. On Monday, the state Court of Appeals upheld the rape conviction. The court concluded that McConnell's identity wasn't established until 2011 when tests matched his DNA with that collected from the crime scene.
"We conclude that under the plain language of the statute, the identity of a suspect is not 'conclusively established' until DNA testing matches the DNA profile of an unknown suspect to the DNA profile of a known suspect," the court wrote.
Detectives caught up with McConnell as part of an investigation into two unrelated homicides.
In 2010, Snohomish County sheriff's cold case detective Jim Scharf asked that the genetic material collected during the rape investigation be retested using current technology. He made the request as part of his probe into the 1995 killing of Patti Berry, and the presumed slaying of Tracey Brazzel earlier that same year.
The suspect in those deaths, Danny Giles, was known to ride a bicycle. Bicycle tire tracks discovered in 1998 suggested that the rapist had pedaled away from the school.
Scientists concluded that the male genetic evidence collected at the rape scene didn't match Giles. Instead, it matched McConnell's profile in the state's DNA database. His genetic profile was entered after a burglary conviction in 2000.
McConnell had been living within a mile of the school at the time this rape occurred. He also admitted using a bicycle as a method of transportation at that time. He has denied raping the teacher.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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