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Cellphone data, DNA match result in Spokane man’s rape conviction

November 22, 2018

A Spokane County jury convicted a man of first-degree rape on Tuesday, more than a year after he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute and forcing her to perform oral sex while holding a gun to her head.

Steven B. Pallett, 47, has been held in the Spokane County Jail since he was arrested on Sept. 21, 2017. He is scheduled to be sentenced in January and faces a minimum of nearly eight years in prison, plus five years for the use of a firearm. The jury found him not guilty of a first-degree kidnapping charge.

Pallett’s arrest followed months of investigation by Brandon Armstrong, a detective in the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office sexual assault unit.

The investigation began on the night of March 18, 2017, when the victim flagged down a motorist on Interstate 90 and reported she had been raped near Mission Park in Spokane Valley. Shaken and barefoot, she had run across a gravel parking lot and hopped a fence to summon help. The motorist called 911, and a state trooper was the first to respond.

The victim eventually admitted she had been working as a prostitute when Pallett picked her up along East Sprague Avenue. She said he had taken her cellphone and ordered her to remove her clothing while driving to the park.

The woman didn’t know Pallett’s name, but she described him as a white man in his 40s with a goatee, mustache and shoulder-length, straight brown hair. His car, she said, was a tan or silver Chevy Cavalier from the early 2000s, but she hadn’t been able to read his license plate. DNA collected from the victim turned up no matches in an FBI database.

The evidence was limited, but it was enough for Detective Armstrong, who obtained a warrant and collected more than 17,000 phone numbers that had interacted with two cell towers in the area. Detectives systematically eliminated numbers that hadn’t been pinged at both locations and weren’t associated with men meeting the victim’s description, leaving only 17 options.

Based on the victim’s description, Pallett’s license photo stood out, according to court records. He happened to own a silver 2001 Chevy Cavalier, and a sheriff’s office database showed he had repeatedly pawned a .40-caliber pistol like the one the victim described.

A DNA sample taken from Pallett after his arrest matched a sample from the victim’s rape kit. Court records say Pallett has a history of threatening people with guns and committing violence against prostitutes working along East Sprague, though several previously documented incidents did not result in an arrest.

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