LANSING, Mich. -- Now that testing from more than 10,000 shelved rape evidence kits in Wayne County is complete, the Michigan State Police crime labs plan to begin test more than 1,800 untested kits from around the state.
In 2009 Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy found 11,341 sexual assault evidence kits in an abandoned Detroit crime lab that closed in 2008. Thousands of DNA samples and possible convictions sat collecting dust.
Many like Defense Attorney Michael Komorn call this a systemic failure. Last October, the MSP Forensic Science Division Director Captain Greg Michaud made a presentation to the Wayne County Bar Association stating 40 percent of the crime labs' work is spent testing marijuana samples.
"[Michaud] said 40 percent of the state lab's work is in testing marijuana; 40 percent, when they had 11,000 untested rape kits that were found in the city of Detroit," said Komorn.
"It took them five years to get through them because they were so inundated with the marijuana, 40 percent of the marijuana cases that they had. That's a problem."
From the 1980's through October 2014, these rape kits sat untested, but why?
In the eighties, DNA was not tested unless a suspect was identified; otherwise, there were not enough DNA profiles in the database to compare the sample to. Then other reasons including victims not wishing to pursue charges, or the suspect pleaded guilty.
Finally, by last September MSP crime labs tested 10, 087 sexual assault evidence kits, which completed Project 8000. As of Feb. 1 Worthy said they have made 36 convictions. In a statement to FOX 17 Worthy wrote:
“In 2009, 11,341 abandoned and untested rape kits were discovered. Today, approximately 10,000 of the kits have been tested. Now we are shifting to the next phase of the project, which is the investigation and prosecution of the tested kits. As of February 1st we have 244 cases that are actively being investigated, 1369 cases that are awaiting investigation and 36 convictions. It is our main focus is to continue to prosecute and convict dangerous felons, and to hopefully bring renewed faith in the criminal justice system to sexual assault survivors.”
A survey Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette requested found 1,819 additional untested rape evidence kits at law enforcement agencies across all Michigan counties except Wayne. The majority of these kits were collected in the '80's and '90's, and span through October 2014.
These are the top five cities outside Detroit with the most untested kits collected before Oct. 1, 2014:
- Flint Police Dept. - 261
- Battle Creek Police Dept. - 239
- Grand Rapids Police - 199
- Kalamazoo Dept. of Public Safety - 113
- Jackson Police Dept. - 63
In 2014, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a law for prompt sexual assault evidence kit testing. This year alone, $3.4 million of the state budget is going toward testing and prosecution of the identified sexual assault evidence kits.
Calhoun County Prosecutor Dave Gilbert said $1.7 million of that budget will fund a special prosecutor assigned by Schuette, then two additional investigators to work on their county's cases alone. Gilbert said he's thankful law enforcement held onto these evidence, even beyond the statute of limitations decades ago.
“Wayne County held onto 10,000 rape kits, our county held onto over 300," said Gilbert. "I’m proud of our law enforcement for holding on to them.”
Since state law changed in the early 2000's, there is no longer statute of limitations for first-degree criminal sexual conduct. Otherwise for lesser degrees, charges can be issued up to 10 years after the DNA suspect is identified, or until the suspect is 21-years-old, whichever is longer.
Gilbert said there's no time limit on justice.
“Depending on who you talk to, there’s a tie between murder and rape as being the most personal offense that you can commit to somebody," said Gilbert.
"Protecting victims doesn’t matter how long, how old the case is, it’s always going to be important. If it’s a 1980 case, 1970 case, justice still needs to be done.”
Gilbert reiterated testing these kits is critical to identifying serial rapists. The testing done in Wayne County alone has already identified 729 potential serial sex offenders.
“Rapists don’t just rape one person and then just stop," said Gilbert.
“If you’ve got somebody who’s been accused of rape, found guilty of rape, they’re going to be sentenced under the sentencing guidelines. If you’ve been a serial rapist, or you’ve raped a lot of people over the years, that’s going to be taken into account in your sentencing. So it’s not just what happened back in the ‘80’s, it’s what’s happening today," he said.
According to the AG's office, testing should begin for local counties, including Calhoun, within the month.
Victims of sexual violence are urged to call the national sexual assault hotline toll-free at: 1-800-656-HOPE. All calls are confidential and a local counseling center will answer the phone.
You may also find resources and help at the website for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network at: www.rainn.org