Man found murdered identified as attacker in 2020 Mississippi cold case — first rape case in state to be solved by genetic geneaology

Published 7:36 am Thursday, May 16, 2024

A man found murdered has been identified as the attacker in a 2020 sexual attack using genetic genealogy — the first rape case in Mississippi to be solved using the new DNA technology.

On Jan. 15 2020, a woman was brutally attacked on First Street in Prentiss. An unknown male assailant pulled the woman into an abandoned house, attacked her with pepper spray and sexually assaulted her.

Officials with the Prentiss Police Department were alerted of the incident and the woman was transported to Jefferson Davis Community Hospital for examination. DNA evidence was collected at the hospital and submitted to the Mississippi Forensics Laboratory for analysis in hopes that the unknown attacker could be identified.

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Following the attack, the victim was interviewed, and she provided a statement which included a description of her attacker.

Using this information, in conjunction with surveillance footage from the area of the attack, Prentiss Police officers identified a person of interest in the case.

A six-panel line-up was developed to include the person of interest, which led to the arrest of a man who was known to live near the crime scene.

After a DNA comparison, it was determined that the man was not the attacker, and he was excluded from consideration.

With no additional leads, the investigation stalled. The rapist could not be identified, and the case went cold

In June 2023, Prentiss Detective Richard Browning, in  collaboration with the Mississippi Forensics Laboratory, submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas, in hopes that advanced DNA testing could help to name the unidentified male suspect.

Othram specializes in forensic genetic genealogy to resolve unsolved murders, disappearances and identification of unidentified decedents or murder victims. The company also offers law enforcement agencies tools and programs to infer kinship among individuals, both closely and distantly related.

Othram scientists successfully developed a DNA extract from the forensic evidence and used the profile in a genetic genealogy search to develop new investigative leads in the case.

Prentiss Police Chief Richard Browning directed the follow-up investigation, which led to potential genetic relatives of the suspect, including three female individuals with the surname “Washington.”

Chief Browning was familiar with the Washington family and learned that Derrick Washington lived on First Street at the time of the assault in January 2020.

Twelve months later, in December 2020, Washington was found murdered by gunshot in a house on Polk Oatis Road just outside of Prentiss. His murder is currently unsolved.

The Mississippi Forensics Laboratory compared a profile from a DNA sample collected during Washington’s autopsy to a profile developed from a DNA sample that was collected from the victim’s sex assault examination. In March 2024 the comparison confirmed that Derrick Washington was the person who sexually assaulted the victim in the abandoned house on First Street in 2020.

“The victim in this case really wanted to know who did this to her,” said Chief Browning. “We kept in contact with each other through the years and I was so happy to finally tell her the case was solved. Although she will never be able to get courtroom justice, she now has closure.”

Funding to support this case was provided by Mississippi native and philanthropist Carla Davis, who is committed to resolving the backlog of cold cases in Mississippi.