The first two criminal indictments, formal statements charging a defendant with a crime, have been filed in Cuyahoga County, Ohio as a result of Attorney General Mike DeWine’s initiative to clear the state’s rape kit backlog, with many more expected to follow. As we shared recently, 53 law enforcement agencies from across Ohio have submitted 2,465 backlogged rape kits, more than 1,000 of which came from Cleveland. From approximately 600 kits tested so far, 90 DNA hits have resulted.
Unfortunately, a grand jury returned the first indictment one day after the 20-year statute of limitations had expired, which means the prosecution will not move forward. In that case, a rape kit from 1993 matched to Charles Steele, whose DNA profile was entered into the state’s database as a result of his incarceration for another rape case in Hamilton County. Detectives submitted the 1993 kit in July 2011 and did not receive the results until 17 months later. After receiving the results on December 25 of last year, they delayed in handing the case over to prosecutors to present to a grand jury. Two days after Steele was indicted, his DNA matched to yet another attack on a Cleveland woman that occurred eight months More >
There has been a flurry of reports in the news recently about the steps several cities across the country have taken to eliminate their rape kit backlogs. These cities are in varying stages of analyzing their untested kits and re-engaging the survivors whose kits were part of the backlog. Two of the cities are located in states—Illinois and Texas—that have passed legislation requiring the testing of all rape kits booked into evidence. The others are located in Ohio, where the Attorney General has encouraged law enforcement agencies to test all kits.
Here are a few highlights of their progress:Robbins, Illinois
CBS Chicago reports that police in Robbins, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, recently discovered 51 rape kits that had never been sent for testing. Some of the kits dated as far back as 1986. The Cook County Sheriff’s Office is now working to process this backlog because Robbins lacks the resources to do so.
According to the Robbins Police Department, they did not test the kits because the victims either recanted or declined to press charges. This is difficult to verify, however, because a flood in the basement of the Department destroyed the statements that would normally accompany the kits. That being the More >
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced last Monday that a new unit at the state’s crime lab will handle backlogged rape kits. Four newly hired forensic scientists will staff the new unit and are expected to process 1,500 cases in their first year and double that amount in subsequent years.
An eleven-member commission that the Attorney General’s Office convened also recommended a new policy that law enforcement agencies submit any untested kits to a state lab regardless of whether a decision has been made to prosecute. Previously, there had been no policy on submitting rape kits. According to the policy, these developments will ensure the entry of offender DNA into police databases.
Attorney General DeWine expects the amount of kits sent to Ohio crime labs will increase from 50 percent to 90 percent. He said:
“We want to assure victims of sexual assault their cases will not be forgotten. We are determined to bring these rapists to justice.”
While the extent of Ohio’s rape kit backlog is unknown, the attorney general’s office reported it has received 2,000 backlogged cases just from Cuyahoga County so far, which includes Cleveland. Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) currently tests 1,000 rape kits per year and expects that number to More >
A recent investigation by The Plain Dealer into almost 90 police reports made in Cleveland Heights reveals that officials have incorrectly categorized and chronically misinformed the public of the number of sex crimes reported in the city.
The Plain Dealer reports that, “at least a third of reported sex offenses, including many involving children, have been classified by the police department as non-crimes with labels such as ‘miscellaneous’ or ‘departmental information.’”
The investigation began after police reported that a total of 26 sexual assaults were reported in the city over a three year period. Reporters questioned the statistics and eventually, the city produced 88 cases that had been reported in the years between 2008 and 2010. Many of the cases has been classified as unfounded, closed without changes or not labeled as rape or sexual offenses.
The Plain Dealer also found that the city under-reported the number of “forcible rapes” to the FBI as well. Though the FBI’s definition is currently more narrow than the state law’s definition of sexual assault, almost two dozen cases should have been counted. Only three were reported from 2008 to 2010.
Last month, we wrote about evidence contained in an untested rape kit that linked to Anthony Sowell who was, at the time, standing trial for murdering 11 women in Ohio. Sowell was convicted this week. Sentencing begins later in August.
We wanted to draw your attention to this article by Laura Strickler, an Emmy award winning journalist who produced a watershed news story on the rape kit backlog in the United States in 2009. In her coverage of the outcome of the trial on CBS News, she summarizes the numerous missed opportunities for the Cleveland and Cleveland Heights Police Departments to apprehend Sowell, a registered sex offender and subject of numerous reports of sexual assault. In one of those cases, police and prosecutors deemed the victim to be a “not credible” witness. In another, though police collected a rape kit, the responding officer allegedly failed to tell the special victims detective about the evidence and the case went cold. And as the article reports, like many jurisdictions across the United States, the Cleveland Heights Police Department did not have a computerized system for tracking rape kits.
The lessons learned form this case are many, but they came at a devastatingly high cost. The Cleveland Heights PD More >