Assault suspect was out on bail

Michael Anthony Washington

The suspect in a recent string of Lowcountry sexual assaults was locked up last year in connection with another rape, but he went free after his father, a former state senator, bailed him out of jail, court records show.

Investigators arrested Michael Anthony Washington, 30, on Tuesday night and charged him with breaking into three homes in the past year and attacking the women inside. Two attacks occurred in Charleston and one was in North Charleston, police said.

Two of the assaults occurred while Washington, son of former state Sen. McKinley Washington Jr., was free on bail in connection with a Nov. 25 rape in North Charleston.

In that incident, he is accused of forcing his way into a Sumner Avenue home at 2:05 a.m. and sexually assaulting a woman while her two young children were nearby, police said. He reportedly threatened to kill the woman and her children if she didn't comply.

Officers arrested Washington after finding him hiding under a neighboring house, according to arrest affidavits.

Washington, who works as a

temporary laborer, was behind bars for less than a month before his father helped post the $150,000 bail needed to spring him from jail Dec. 17, court records show. While awaiting trial, he returned to Ravenel to live with his parents in their brick ranch home along S.C. Highway 165.

North Charleston Police Chief Jon Zumalt questioned why Washington, as a repeat offender, was given the opportunity to post bail on another violent crime. Washington has a criminal record dating to 1995, with convictions for assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, breaking into motor vehicles, trespassing, marijuana possession, simple assault and driving under suspension.

"This is another classic example of a repeat violent offender getting out on bond and getting back out onto the streets," Zumalt said.

Circuit Judge Markley Dennis, who set bail in the November case, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

While free, authorities said, Washington ventured from his rural home to attack women in the Charleston area.

He is accused of forcing open the front door of a Smith Street home on May 27, wrestling a recent College of Charleston graduate onto her bed and covering her face with a towel and pillow. The intruder sexually molested the woman and threatened to kill her if she made noise, according to an arrest affidavit. He also stole her purse and driver's license, the affidavit said.

Charleston police said Washington struck again June 14, forcing his way into a Radcliffe Street home and raping a 20-year-old roommate of a College of Charleston student. The intruder threatened to kill the woman and stole her ID and other possessions, police said.

Washington also is implicated in a similar attack that occurred June 8 of last year in North Charleston. He is accused of forcing his way into a Mosstree Road apartment and then raping a 26-year-old woman inside. He reportedly threatened to kill her if she didn't comply, according to arrest affidavits.

Washington was linked to the Radcliffe Street and Mosstree Road attacks through DNA evidence, according to arrest affidavits. The victim in the Smith Street attack identified him from a photo line-up, police said.

Magistrate Linda Lombard ordered Washington held without bail on three counts of first-degree burglary, two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.

Heather Hillman, a Charleston police victims' advocate, told the judge that the victims in the peninsula cases remain fearful for their lives, as the intruder told them he would kill them if they reported the crime to police.

McKinley Washington did not attend the bail hearing for his son, and he could not be reached for comment at his home or at the church where he is a pastor. William Runyon, Michael Washington's lawyer, had no comment on the charges and said the former lawmaker did not wish to speak with the media.

Melonea Locklair, executive director of the local non-profit People Against Rape, praised the victims of the assaults for coming forward and providing detailed descriptions of their attacker to police. "I consider them heroes in this," she said.

Police continue to investigate whether Washington is linked to other crimes in the area. It remains unclear whether police have connected or excluded Washington from two other downtown incidents in which young women were confronted by an intruder in their homes late last year.

Nadine Parks contributed to this report.