DNA evidence leads to charges in 2003 rape case

Jerzy Shedlock

Anchorage police say DNA evidence taken in 2003 from the victim of a sexual assault has led to charges 11 years after the crime occurred. Police have identified additional “persons of interest” but declined to confirm if they’d found DNA matches.

Thirty-one-year-old Orlin Sutliff and 29-year-old Antwon Archibale are accused of raping a woman they had promised a ride home from the popular bar Chilkoot Charlie’s. Instead of taking her home, police say, they drove her to an east Anchorage apartment, where they and five other men sexually assaulted her.

Sutliff has been charged with two counts of first-degree sexual assault, and Archibale was charged with one count. They were both arrested Tuesday without incident and are currently jailed at the Anchorage Correctional Complex. Police have identified others in the rape case and continue to look into their potential involvement in the alleged sexual assault.

A case gone cold

Anchorage police Chief Mark Mew said during a Friday press conference that the case highlights the importance of reporting sexual assaults as early as possible so evidence can be recovered from the victim. The case also exemplifies the persistence of the Anchorage Police Department’s Special Victims Unit in aggressively following up on all leads on all cases, he said.

“We’ll continue to work cases as long as there’s evidence,” Mew said.

The attack in question occurred on a cold November night in 2003. The victim, who police described as an adult female, had been out at Chilkoot Charlie’s with her sister and a friend. Her sister drove the friend home, leaving the victim to search for a ride when the bar closed, according to a police department press release.

“Standing in the cold, a male unknown to her struck up conversation with her and offered her a ride to her home which she accepted. Instead of being taken home, she was taken to an apartment in east Anchorage, where she reported she was brutally sexually assaulted by at least seven young males,” said detective Brett Sarber.

A criminal complaint filed against both of the men alleges the multiple assailants surrounded her on a bed and forced themselves on her. They continued their sexual assault “despite her struggling against it and asking/pleading with them to stop,” according to the complaint.

The victim eventually escaped the apartment but was forced into a vehicle “occupied by many of the same individuals who had sexually assaulted her,” the release says. The men allegedly drove her to the Carrs parking lot at DeBarr Road and Boniface Parkway and pushed her out of the vehicle.

After being assaulted and dumped in the parking lot, she went to the emergency room at Alaska Native Medical Center and reported the sexual assault, according to the complaint. Police were called and she underwent a rape exam following an interview with a Special Victims Unit detective.

Sarber said at the time of the woman’s initial report, she was unable to name any of the suspects or provide a location where the assault happened, and the case went cold without any leads or additional clues.

‘DNA hit’

A break in the case came in January 2012, when the State of Alaska Crime Detection Laboratory sent police a “DNA hit” letter stating evidence from the victim had been matched to Sutliff, whose DNA matched swabs taken from the victim’s leg and bra, according to the complaint.

Authorities obtained Sutliff’s DNA profile after he was convicted of third-degree criminal mischief charge in November 2011. The sample was loaded into a state law enforcement database and compared against profiles already on file. Police had created an unknown suspect profile following the 2003 rape.

Sutliff has two other criminal convictions for endangering a vulnerable adult and reckless driving and third-degree criminal mischief, according to court records.

The comparison happens every time police obtain new DNA profiles, said Lt. Kenneth McCoy, who oversees the Police Department’s Special Victims and Crimes Against Children units.

According to court records, Archibale complied a lengthy rap sheet since the alleged rape occurred 11 years ago, racking up 10 convictions since April 2004. The convictions include four separate cases of assault, as well as resisting arrest and theft. Police declined to say whether they’d matched Archibale’s DNA to the rape case, however. Sarber said Sutliff’s profile was the first to return a hit.

Law enforcement has only had the authority to collect samples from misdemeanor offenses against a person since about 2005, Mew said. Five years earlier Alaska became the 11th state qualified to file DNA profiles in a computer information bank, called CODIS, which is similar in purpose to the FBI’s national fingerprint database.

By the mid-2000s all states had passed laws requiring storage of DNA profiles for convicted sex offenders. Alaska’s law went further, requiring stored profiles for offenders convicted since 1996 of a felony against a person, which includes assault, rape, kidnapping, murder, child sex abuse and other crimes.

Mew said Sgt. John McKinnon fought for years to expand Alaska’s law to include misdemeanor offenders. The Legislature was reluctant to allow police “across-the-board” collection of DNA samples, he said.

“If it had not been for the law changing, we wouldn’t be here today,” Mew said and thanked McKinnon for his efforts.

Two suspects interviewed in 2012

In a 2012 interview with police detective Brett Sarber, Sutliff allegedly said he’d seen the victim outside the bar on a night in 2003, and that she got into a car with him. Archibale and two other men were in the car as well, according to the detective's account, but Sutliff “denied ever touching her or having any type of sexual contact with her whatsoever.”

He reportedly admitted that some kind of assault occurred, as the complaint goes on to state that Sutliff said “his friend Archibale was the only other person he knew at the rape event, although there were others participating whom he did not know.”

Sarber also interviewed Archibale in 2012. According to a police account of that interview, the second rape suspect said he remembered the victim and that she’d been brought over to an apartment in 2003; he saw several men, including Sutliff, have consensual sex with the woman.

Reach Jerzy Shedlock at jerzy@alaskadispatch.com.