A convicted rapist whose semen was found on a blanket at the scene of the 1982 rape and murder of a woman in Culpeper, Va., has told police that he did not commit the crime and had no memory of visiting the town, according to court documents unsealed yesterday.
Kenneth Tinsley, 58, has been named by police in court records as a suspect in the slaying of Rebecca Lynn Williams, 19, a crime that received national attention because a wrongly convicted man was nearly executed in the case. Earl Washington Jr., who is mildly mentally retarded, spent 17 years in prison for the killing, including 91/2 on death row, before he was exonerated through DNA tests.
Documents filed in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville that were made public yesterday show that Tinsley -- who is serving life in prison for the rape of an Albemarle waitress -- was interviewed by police in September 2000 after doubt over Washington's guilt prompted officials to revisit evidence in the case.
Scientists found no evidence that Washington had been at the scene, but they matched Tinsley's DNA with genetic material from a blanket that was in Williams's bedroom.
Tinsley, who has not been charged in Williams's killing, told investigators "that if he had committed this crime he would tell the truth because he would want to free a fellow inmate," the documents state. He also has told police that detectives might have put his semen on the blanket.
The account of Tinsley's interview with authorities is part of a lawsuit Washington has filed against authorities involved in his arrest and prosecution. Virginia officials have sought to keep the papers sealed, citing an ongoing investigation. But Washington's attorneys, along with The Washington Post and several other media organizations, argued successfully that the papers should be made public.
Washington's attorneys have alleged that their client was coerced and intimidated by authorities and that Virginia's crime laboratory botched forensic tests in the case. They said genetic testing conducted by a private laboratory showed that the genetic material in Williams's body belongs to Tinsley.
According to court records, Virginia forensic scientists were not able to determine the source of the DNA from Williams's body but ruled out Washington, Tinsley and the victim's husband. Last month, Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) ordered an independent examination of the DNA testing performed in the case.