Bill aims to erase back­log of rape kits

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Encore - BY JOSH SHAF­FER jshaf­[email protected]­sob­ Josh Shaf­fer: 919- 829- 4818, @joshshaf­fer08

N.C. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Josh Stein an­nounced a $10 mil­lion plan re­cently to elim­i­nate the back­log of more than 10,000 untested rape kits statewide, hop­ing to close decades of un­solved sex­ual as­sault cases. Joined by a bi­par­ti­san group from the N.C. House, Stein said he will seek leg­is­la­tion that en­sures both old and new kits get tested, re­quir­ing that law en­force­ment agen­cies sub­mit them to the state crime lab within 45 days. “Each one of these kits rep­re­sents a per­sonal tragedy,” Stein said at a Raleigh press con­fer­ence, “and each of these vic­tims de­serves jus­tice.” The pro­posed Sur­vivors Act comes as the state has grap­pled with news that 15,160 kits re­mained on law en­force­ment shelves, never un­der­go­ing anal­y­sis. The kits con­tain DNA and other ev­i­dence col­lected dur­ing med­i­cal pro­ce­dures after sex­ual at­tacks. The 2017 in­ven­tory taken by the state crime lab showed North Carolina had one of the high­est back­logs na­tion­wide. Of the untested kits, more than 6,000 came from cases that had ei­ther been re­solved in court or showed no ev­i­dence of as­sault. But more than 7,000 fit nei­ther of those cat­e­gories. Speak­ing at the press con­fer­ence, Fayet­teville po­lice Lt. John Somerindyke said that in the past, po­lice de­part­ments lacked ac­count­abil­ity and some­times set ev­i­dence aside when vic­tims’ sto­ries would change. Since then, he said, tech­nol­ogy has im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly — enough that a “stranger rape” case from 1987 got solved this week. Somerindyke added he has likely looked at ev­ery re­ported case in his city and con­cluded that “ev­ery rapist is a se­rial rapist,” mean­ing that an untested kit gives an at­tacker free rein. “The sur­vivors de­serve jus­tice and the pub­lic de­serve to be pro­tected,” said Rep. Jamie Boles, a Moore County Repub­li­can and co-spon­sor of the Sur­vivor Act. The bill asks for $6 mil­lion to process the old kits, re­quir­ing law en­force­ment agen­cies to set up re­view teams to sur­vey their in­ven­to­ries and find out which have the most in­ves­tiga­tive value and po­ten­tial for a CODIS hit, or match with DNA al­ready in a fed­eral data­base. An­other $4 mil­lion is avail­able in grants from the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice and the Gov­er­nor’s Crime Com­mis­sion. New foren­sic sci­en­tists would be hired at the state crime lab to han­dle in­com­ing kits, and many other kits would be out­sourced to pri­vate labs. “It’s not ev­i­dence in a box,” said Monika John­son-Hostler, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the N.C. Coali­tion Against Sex­ual As­sault. “It’s part of who (these vic­tims) are.” The bill also ad­dresses how fu­ture kits are man­aged. Law en­force­ment would be no­ti­fied within 24 hours each time a kit is col­lected. Po­lice would then have 45 days to in­ves­ti­gate be­fore send­ing the kit to the lab as re­quired. After that, any time law en­force­ment re­ceives a CODIS hit, it must no­tify the crime lab within 15 days of an ar­rest or con­vic­tion.

TRAVIS LONG [email protected]­sob­

Josh Stein an­nounces a plan to elim­i­nate the rape kit back­log.

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