Rapist absent: Unsealed file says cops knew

State police have known for at least three years that a convicted rapist was not at work the day Rebecca Lynn Williams was raped and stabbed to death in her Culpeper apartment, according to an investigative report unsealed by court order Friday, November 12.

In addition, Kenneth Tinsley's DNA was found in seminal fluid on a blanket at the scene of the June 4, 1982, crime. Results of the DNA tests, conducted in 2000, prompted then-Gov. Jim Gilmore to grant a full pardon to Earl Washington Jr., who had been sentenced to death for the Williams slaying. Tinsley has not been charged in Williams' death.

In the documents that U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon ordered unsealed, Tinsley told police he had no idea how his semen got on the blanket.

"If it's mine, as God's witness, I do not know how it got there," Tinsley was quoted as telling investigators.

Tinsley, 59, speculated that detectives might have planted the evidence, using a semen sample from a previous trial. Tinsley is serving two life terms for a 1984 rape in Albemarle County.

He also said the blanket perhaps was stained in a previous consensual sexual encounter elsewhere.

"He stated that over the years he possibly had sex on a blue blanket in various cities," including New York and Chicago, the investigators wrote.

Another report recounted a conversation with an executive at Tultex Corp. in Martinsville, where Tinsley worked. The executive said records in Tinsley's file showed he was not at work on June 4, 1982.

Washington, who is mildly retarded, confessed to the crime but later recanted. He came within nine days of being executed. After DNA testing in 1993 cast doubt on Washington's guilt, then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder commuted his sentence to life in prison. Gilmore granted the pardon based on more sophisticated tests, but prosecutors have said Washington remains a suspect.

"Even when they released him, they did it in this grudging manner, leaving clouds of suspicion– all totally unjustified," says Eric M. Freedman, one of Washington's lawyers.

Washington filed suit against the authorities who prosecuted him, in part to clear his name. But state police sought to keep its file on the Williams' slaying secret and under court seal, arguing that release of the documents could jeopardize their ongoing investigation.

U.S. Supreme Court last week refused to stay Moon’s order and the file was opened.

The records were sought by Washington's lawyers and five news organizations: The Associated Press, The Washington Post, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, and the Virginia Press Association.