Pennsylvania man charged in decades-old rape case after DNA links him to attack

Isabel Hughes, Delaware News Journal
Pennsylvania man charged in decades-old rape case after DNA links him to attack

WILMINGTON, Del. – In the early morning hours of Aug. 4, 1993, a young woman was walking near Hill Park in Newark when a nude man grabbed her from behind.

Pushing her onto a grassy area, the man raped her, then fled with her clothes and other personal items.

The 22-year-old, who never saw her attacker, immediately reported the rape to Newark police, who were unsuccessful in locating the man.

Despite receiving tips and interviewing witnesses in the days and weeks that followed, Newark detectives exhausted all leads and the case became cold.

Twenty-six years later, the man police believe is responsible for the attack, 54-year-old Jeffrey King of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, has been indicted, thanks to DNA found in the woman's rape kit and information obtained through a genealogical website, Newark police announced jointly with Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings on Tuesday morning.

The indictment, which a New Castle County grand jury handed down on Sept. 30, comes about two years after the case was reopened as part of Delaware's Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, an effort that began in 2016 to test previously untested rape kits, Jennings said.

Jeffrey King, the man police have linked via DNA to a 1993 rape in Newark, and a composite drawn from the victim's description of the suspect in 1993

"(SAKI's goal) is to not only go back and test old evidence kits, but, as in this case, to find new and innovative ways to solve older cases through science and technology," Jennings said. "It serves as a reminder that cases like this are never closed, and we never stop seeking justice for survivors of rape and sexual assault."

Until Newark detectives reopened the case in November 2017, the victim's rape kit sat untested, one of more than 1,000 in the state waiting to be examined.

When it was finally sent to a private lab, evidence in the kit provided a male DNA profile, Newark police Lt. Andrew Rubin said Tuesday. King wasn't immediately identified because his DNA was not in the FBI's national DNA database.

Undeterred by the setback, detectives sent the DNA to Parabon Nanolabs, a private, Virginia-based lab that specializes in DNA phenotyping, the process of predicting a person's physical appearance and ancestry from DNA.

The DNA profile was then sent to known DNA databases, including a public genealogy website, which returned a list of people whose DNA "could be similar to the DNA that was obtained through this kit," Rubin said.

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Detectives identified King, who was 28 at the time of the attack and had connections to Newark, as their main suspect. After surveilling him in August of this year, detectives obtained a "discarded item" that contained his DNA.

While Rubin did not elaborate on what that discarded item was or how police obtained it, he said King's DNA matched the sample in the 1993 rape kit.

King was arrested on Oct. 3 by Coatesville detectives and later turned himself in to Newark police. He was briefly held in prison before posting $50,000 cash bail.

His arrest is the third in the state directly attributed to SAKI, Delaware Criminal Justice Council SAKI Site Coordinator Michael Kelly said, and one of many across the nation made possible through the testing of previously untested kits.

Last month, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement handed local law enforcement officials and state attorneys 1,800 leads to unsolved rape cases, some going back a decade or more.

Delaware Attorney General Kathleen Jennings speaks during a press conference on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019.

While DNA does not guarantee a conviction, it does aid prosecutors significantly, Delaware Deputy Attorney General Eric Zubrow, who is one of the prosecutors assigned to King's case, recently told Delaware Online/The News Journal.

"DNA is (pretty much) going to conclusively prove that the sexual act took place," Zubrow said. "It doesn't prove, necessarily, that there's a lack of consent or the other elements of any given crime, but the DNA at least kind of knocks out that one element. It helps prove a substantial element of the crime."

Jennings said identifying King as a suspect is a win, and should serve as an incentive for sexual assault victims to come forward.

"(This case) illustrates that there are police and prosecutors who are working toward justice every day, even in cases that may have seemed cold," Jennings said. "It tells survivors that when they come forward to report a rape or sexual assault, we will do everything we can to support them and seek justice on their behalf.”

Follow Isabel Hughes on Twitter: @izzihughes_

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: DNA evidence leads to arrest in decades-old rape case in Delaware