Major cities like Cleveland, Detroit, and Memphis have discovered thousands of backlogged kits in storage, and taken action. These jurisdictions started testing their kits, submitting eligible DNA profiles into the national database (CODIS), and investigating and prosecuting resulting cases.
As of August 2016, testing these backlogged rape kits has resulted in the identification of over 1,200 potential serial rapists. These serial offenders, linked to kits in just three cities, have committed crimes across at least 40 states and Washington, D.C. They have not just committed rape—many have been linked to other violent crimes, as well.
In March 2016, researchers at Case Western Reserve University published an analysis of serial vs. one-time sexual offenders, based on a random sample of cases associated with previously backlogged kits from Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Their analysis found that more than half of these sexual assaults were connected to serial offenders, suggesting that serial offenders are more common than previously believed. Their recommendations? Jurisdictions should thoroughly investigate every sexual assault case as possibly perpetrated by a serial offender, and test all sexual assault kits associated with a reported crime.
The following case studies illuminate the fact that rapists are often serial offenders and that DNA is one of the best tools we have to take these dangerous offenders off the streets and keep communities safe.
In 2011, the Ohio Attorney General launched the Sexual Assault Kit Testing Initiative, which incentivized law enforcement agencies across the state to submit all untested kits in storage to the state crime lab. As of August 2016, 294 law enforcement agencies across Ohio have submitted 13,908 kits for testing. Nearly 6,000 of these kits were submitted for testing by the Cleveland Division of Police, in Cuyahoga County.
As of September 2016, the crime lab has completed analysis on 5,712 sexual assault kits from Cuyahoga County, resulting in the identification of 380 serial rapists. One rapist identified through the backlog testing effort has been linked to 17 victims. Thus far, the backlog testing effort has led to the indictment of 527 offenders in Cuyahoga County.
Case Study : Nathan Ford
Former Lake County probation officer Nathan Ford has been linked to at least 15 rapes since the early 1990s. Ford, 48, was first convicted in 2006 for the rapes of eight different women, amongst them a 13-year-old girl and a 55-year old school teacher. In 2015, newly analyzed DNA evidence from untested rape kits connected Ford to an additional 7 rapes.
Ford is currently serving 138 years in prison for the rapes of eight women. Since the inception of the Ohio Sexual Assault Kit Testing Initiative, Ford has been linked to an additional 14 sexual assaults.
In 2009, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office discovered 11,341 untested rape kits in a Detroit Police Department storage facility. As of August 2016, Detroit has tested approximately 10,000 kits, resulting in 2,616 DNA matches and the identification of 770 suspected serial rapists. The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office has obtained 60 convictions, and DNA from the kits tested linked to crimes committed in 40 states and Washington, D.C.
Case Study: Deshawn Starks
In 2003, DeShawn Starks sexually assaulted two women in Detroit, six months apart. Both women submitted to rape kits, but no investigation or testing occurred until a decade later. In 2013, Starks sexually assaulted two more women in Detroit. Both women submitted to rape kits, and their kits were tested. When the ensuing profile was entered into CODIS, the DNA hit linked the case another crime.
Ten years after Sparks’ 2003 crimes, Detroit tested all of these kits as part of its backlog elimination initiative, and DNA linked Starks to both crimes. Had the kits been tested following collection, at least two sexual assaults could have been prevented. Sparks is currently serving a sentence of 45 – 90 years in prison.
During the summer of 2013, the City of Memphis announced that it had 12,164 untested rape kits in law enforcement storage. As of August 2016, 9,754 kits have been analyzed or are currently at the laboratory awaiting testing. As a result, MPD has opened 1,209 investigations and 188 requests for indictment have been issued.
Case Study: Eric Curry
Between July 2005 and February 2006, seven women reported being violently raped in South Memphis. All of these victims indicated that their attacker had lured them into a White Jeep, and three of the women identified Eric Curry as their attacker in a photo lineup. At least one of the women also submitted to a rape kit. In 2009, Curry pleaded guilty to three of these crimes, and was sentenced to ten years in prison.
When Memphis began testing its backlogged kits in 2013, more of Curry’s past crimes as a violent serial offender were finally revealed. In 2014, after being released from prison and assigned to lifetime supervision with the state, Curry was charged with two additional sexual assaults dating back to the early 2000s. Had these kits been tested sooner, it is likely that some of this violence could have been prevented.
Curry is suspected in as many as 18 other sexual assaults.
- By Ilse Knecht. This post was originally published in August 2015 and has since been updated with new figures as of September 2016.
ENDTHEBACKLOG is an initiative of the Joyful Heart Foundation to shine a light on the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the United States. Our goal is to end this injustice by conducting groundbreaking research identifying the extent of the nation’s backlog and best practices for eliminating it, expanding the national dialogue on rape kit testing through increased public awareness, engaging communities and government agencies and officials and advocating for comprehensive rape kit reform legislation and policies at the local, state and federal levels. We urge you to learn more about the backlog, where it exists and why it matters. We invite you to take action and support efforts to test rape kits. Help us send the message that we must take rape seriously.