Anti-violence group funds processing of untested rape kits at Detroit crime lab

Mike Martindale and George Hunter / The Detroit News

Detroit -- Some of the 10,500 rape evidence kits that have sat untested at the Detroit Police crime lab may soon be dusted off, thanks to a federal grant from a women's support group.


The Michigan Domestic Violence Prevention & Treatment Board is funneling $650,000 to help Michigan State Police process samples of evidence taken from sexual assault victims and compare with the DNA of known offenders. Another $150,000 will go toward either updating old kits or purchasing new ones, executive director Debi Cain said.


"Each of these untested kits represents a sexual assault victim who trusted our system to be there for them," Cain said. "It's no easy thing for a victim to go through testing. But it's devastating for a system you trust to let you down."


The rape kits contain material taken from victims such as semen or hair that could contain DNA of their attackers.


Michigan State Police took over the Detroit crime lab in September 2008 after it was determined firearms cases had been improperly handled.


When the rape kits were discovered in the crime lab last year, Detroit Police ordered a review. Most of the rape kits that have been reviewed were from cases in which DNA evidence was not needed, said Detroit Police 2nd Deputy Chief John Roach.


"The State Police and Detroit police have both been reviewing those cases, and we've found that most of the kits were either from cases where the perpetrator confessed, and thus there was no need to do a DNA test; or the victim refused to press charges; or the perpetrator was known, and there was no need to do a test," Roach said.


Roach did not know how many of the 10,500 kits had been reviewed and assistant prosecutor Maria Miller, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, stressed final determination will come from her office.


"In reviewing the existing rape kits, the Detroit Police Department cannot make a determination of what cases are able to be charged and prosecuted in a cursory review," Milller said. "That is uniquely the role of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office. It is a legal decision that can only be made by prosecutors interviewing the complainants, reviewing the facts and the evidence on a case by case basis."


The funding, obtained last month, comes from the STOP (Services, Training, Officers and Prosecutors) criminal justice grant designated to combat violence against women.


The one-time grant will hardly put a dent in the backlog. State Police have estimated if one technician had nothing else to do, it would take him or her 58 years to complete the testing of all the kits.


Capt. Michael Thomas, who oversees Michigan's seven State Police labs, is grateful for the grant, which he estimates will pay for the processing of 400 kits to be selected at random.


"It costs about $1,000 a kit," Thomas said. "But tests alone aren't enough. You have to have fund police to investigate or background the crime and then the prosecutors needed to review and seek."


Under the $650,000 grant, police and the prosecutor's office will share in $350,000, he said. The success of the sample will provide an idea of what it will cost to complete all 10,500, he said.


"The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office will receive $150,000 to do a legal review of the rape cases to determine what work must be done," Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said. "This money will not be used to process the over 10,000 rape kits that the Detroit Police Department collected. That is an undertaking that would take hundreds of hours, and according to State Police, millions of dollars to complete."


The domestic violence group's involvement comes amid several developments concerning the State Police's ability to keep pace with old and new cases.


State Rep. Richard LeBlanc, D-Westland, chairman of the State Police appropriations subcommittee, will hold an information hearing Feb. 18 in Lansing on the processing of criminal evidence in Michigan.


"It's no secret that State Police labs -- despite working overtime -- are unable to keep up with the cases," LeBlanc said. "Since State Police took over the Detroit Police crime lab, backlogs have increased even more.


(To read original article, visit this Detroit News link.)

Filed under