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Feb 20 2013

NBC Story on Untested Rape Kits

NBC News did a story about the almost 12,000 unexamined rape kits that were found in a Detroit evidence warehouse after a crime lab there was closed down a few years ago. They’re slowly going through the process of testing them, with no funding from the state to do so, and it’s showing results:

So far, 600 kits have been tested, and investigators say that they have discovered evidence of 21 serial rapists. Grant money funded the testing of those kits. Worthy said it costs on average between $1,200 and $1,500 to get each kit tested. People have wanted to donate money to help get kits tested, but the prosecutor’s office cannot solicit or collect funds. But now a non-profit organization, the Detroit Crime Commission, has set up a fund and will manage it for the purpose of accepting donations and using those funds to help pay to get kits tested.

Some of the kits tested have revealed sobering results. One kit from 2002 revealed DNA belonging to a man who was in prison for the murder of three women. The murders had been committed during the seven years the rape kit sat on a warehouse shelf.

But the Detroit Police Department, which is about as incompetent and corrupt as one could possibly imagine, didn’t think there was any reason to bother with it:

The Detroit Police department says that they completed an internal review in 2009. NBC News filed an official request for records of any internal investigation, and two months later we received an eight page document. In it, the police say once they became aware of the situation in the warehouse, they randomly pulled 36 of the stored rape kits and found there were “justifiable reasons” for not testing them. Those reasons, police say, include victims who refused to prosecute or were uncooperative and assailants who pleaded guilty to lesser charges. When NBC News showed the report to Worthy, she questioned its validity.

“Their reasons were just made-up reasons as to why there should be no investigation,” Worthy said.

The piece includes an incredible story about one woman who was raped 14 years ago and was recently informed that, because the evidence was finally examined, they now know who did it and that person is going to be prosecuted.

15 comments

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  1. 1
    Caveat Imperator

    This is disgraceful. The wheels of justice turn far more slowly than they should.

    But I’m glad they’re actually turning now.

  2. 2
    jameshanley

    That’s some fine protecting and serving by the DPD.

    By the way, for anyone wondering who is this “Worthy” that is mentioned, I presume it’s the county prosecutor Kym Worthy.

  3. 3
    Moggie

    It shouldn’t just be the rapists facing jail over this.

  4. 4
    rturpin

    Why does it cost $1,200 to genotype the DNA from a rape kit, but only $99 to get your DNA genotyped at 23andme?

  5. 5
    jameshanley

    the police say once they became aware of the [12,000 unexamined rape kits] in the warehouse, they randomly pulled 36 of the stored rape kits and found there were “justifiable reasons” for not testing them.

    In case anyone wondered, to get a confidence level of 95% with a confidence interval of +-3% in a population of 12,000, you’d need to sample size of 980, 27 times the amount of kits they claim to have sampled.

  6. 6
    ArtK

    @ jameshanley

    That’s assuming that they didn’t cherry-pick the cases in the first place. I would be entirely unsurprised if by “random” they meant “go find some cases that look unpromising.”

  7. 7
    nonnymus

    @rturpin, Because the DNA test you get done for fun doesn’t have to stand up in court. It is also far less extensive.

  8. 8
    rturpin

    I don’t know, nonnymus. Seems to me the first thing to do is something cheap and fasts that in all likelihood generates the interesting results. Then, if more is required for a prosecution, do that as needed.

  9. 9
    ButchKitties

    If my experience is any indication, rape victims who are “lucky” enough to get their cases prosecuted will spend more time waiting for their cases to go to trial than their rapists (if convicted) will spend in prison.

  10. 10
    cry4turtles

    Guess they weren’t “legitimate rapes.”

  11. 11
    starskeptic

    The back-log on untested rape-kits nation-wide was something in the neighborhood of 180,000 as of Nov, 2012.

  12. 12
    d.c.wilson

    But the Detroit Police Department, which is about as incompetent and corrupt as one could possibly imagine, didn’t think there was any reason to bother with it:

    But the LAPD is more incompetent and corrupt as one could possibly imagine.

  13. 13
    TxSkeptic

    While Detroit closed a crime lab & didn’t bother to test these kits, and therefore failed to fully investigate & prosecute a serious violent crime, I bet they didn’t hesitate to spend tons of money harassing and prosecuting people for simple possession of recreational drugs, which is basically a victimless crime. We can argue about the drug dealers separately as part of a legalization discussion.

  14. 14
    RH

    rturpin
    No, not necessarily. Remember that a rape kit may have very limited quantities of DNA. These are not voluntary donations. Time isn’t likely helping things. If you handed this off to amateur hour you might loose the only clue or hard evidence you will ever have.
    Furthermore, processing the rape kit may not be a one sample job the way your 23andme is. First of the don’t actually KNOW if there is definitely DNA when they start, and then they may have to run multiple samples of various types, and separate the victims from the perpetrators.
    All of which has to be done in a way that will hold up in court, because you might not have another sample to play with.

  15. 15
    Dawn Smith

    Unfortunately, untested rape kits is a problem all over the country. It is a national disgrace.

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