Andy Beshear claims rape kit test backlog is fixed, but prosecutions still lag
by Andrew Wolfson, Louisville Courier Journal –
Sexual assault victim says her rape kit was never tested and the assailant never identified. Matt Stone, Louisville Courier Journal
When he announced his bid for governor Monday, Attorney General Andy Beshear said his office has “addressed” Kentucky’s rape kit backlog and is “in the process of testing every single kit.”
That’s true, though Beshear didn’t mention that only three indictments so far have been returned statewide, despite tests of nearly 3,200 kits that produced 398 “hits” to suspects in federal DNA databases.
“Everything is in the pipeline vs. sitting on a shelf and not being processed, as was the case previously,” said Terry Sebastian, an attorney general’s office spokesman. That doesn’t mean unsolved rape cases have been resolved, he added.
The state auditor found in 2015 that 3,173 rape evidence kits were languishing in local police departments and the Kentucky State Police crime lab.
Beshear, who was elected attorney general in 2016, has claimed elimination of the test backlog as a signature achievement of his time in office. Records collected by the nonprofit Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs show that all of the kits have in fact been sent off for private testing.
About 2,600 of those kits have undergone an additional required review by KSP technicians, and 1,229 DNA profiles have been entered in federal databases, according to Kentuckybacklog.com, a website offered by KASAP, the statewide coalition of 13 rape crisis centers.
No DNA is found in most cases, so no profile is entered, said Eileen Recktenwald, the coalition’s executive director.
For kits that did not produce a DNA profile, KSP is reviewing case files and working with investigators to see if other evidence suitable for testing was collected, she said. If DNA from a kit matches a known suspect, the victim by law must be notified, as well as the local police and prosecutor who initially handled the case.
Gretchen Hunt, who heads the attorney general’s Office of Victim Advocacy, said her staff has found about 1,500 additional kits that could be subjected to additional testing and shipped them off to Sorenson Forensics in Salt Lake City, which also did tests for KSP. The additional cases bring the total number of rape kits to 4,587, she said.
Hunt acknowledged prosecution of suspects who turn up in matches is just beginning.
Recktenwald said there has been one indictment each in Jefferson, Fayette and Warren counties, with the Bowling Green case producing a guilty plea and a 12-year sentence.
In 2016, the attorney general’s office provided $4.5 million from civil settlements to the state to fund KSP crime lab upgrades and prevent a backlog of rape kits from reoccurring.
The attorney general’s office last year won a nearly $3 million Sexual Assault Kit Initiative grant from the U.S. Justice Department that allowed it to form a sexual assault cold case unit consisting of a victim advocate, an investigator and a prosecutor, and to fund an additional KSP sexual assault detective.
Andrew Wolfson: 502-582-7189; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @adwolfson. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/andreww