Archive for August, 2011
A Reuters story about a man who has just pleaded guilty to an 18-year old sexual assault in New York stood out to us this week. This particular case highlights what an important tool DNA can be in identifying perpetrators of sexual assault. It’s also demonstrates that, even almost two decades later, rape kit testing can lead to justice.
In 1993, a man violently attacked and raped a woman in her Lower East Side apartment building. A rape kit collected from the victim after the crime and it was eventually tested in 2002 when New York City tested all 16,000+ rape kits that were part of its backlog.
As DNA profiles found in many of the rape kits were uploaded into the national DNA databank, called CODIS, and linked to profiles of known offenders, New York City began to see results immediately–the arrest rate for rape jumped from 40% (which was already above the national average) to 70%.
However, many rape kits–including this one from the 1993 case–yielded DNA profiles that were eligible to be uploaded into the database but that did not link to a known offender, making an arrest or conviction impossible until a matching profile from another crime could be uploaded.
In 2003 More >
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 >