Several Thousand Rape Kits Still Await Testing in Memphis

More than 7,400 of the 12,374 untested rape kits discovered by the Memphis Police Department (MPD) in late 2013 and early 2014 still await laboratory analysis.

The latest update on the city’s rape-kit backlog, which includes sexual assault kits taken as far back as 1975, were disclosed during the Memphis City Council’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee meeting on Tuesday, January 20th.

According to the Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) Taskforce, by the end of December, there were still 6,340 untested rape kits. Another 1,142 have been processed for serology (evidence of bodily fluids) but haven’t been sent off to a laboratory for DNA analysis.

This leaves the number of kits that have been analyzed or are at the lab awaiting analysis at 4,892.

“Testing the kits is the easy part,” said Doug McGowen of the SAK Taskforce. “We’ve already started 280-plus investigations. Each investigation takes 40 hours of police officer time. It’s going to cost a significant amount of money to put police officers and the significant support in place to do the number of investigations that we’re going to have to do.”

It’s estimated to cost more than $6.5 million to test all of the city’s backlogged rape kits. Thus far, the city has reportedly allocated $4.25 million, and the state has provided $1 million toward kit testing. 

A funding gap of $512,855 remains. The gap must be closed before the city can access a $750,000 challenge grant that was awarded by the Plough Foundation to help in the city’s kit testing.

To fill the gap as well as provide additional personnel for investigations and prosecutions, the SAK Taskforce has applied for funding being offered by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. The agency has committed to providing $35 million for rape-kit testing nationwide.

The SAK Taskforce will also apply for the White House/Department of Justice Grant Program, which is allocating $41 million to help eradicate the nation’s rape-kit backlog and improve sexual-assault investigations. The program has yet to begin accepting applications.

Additional funding for kit testing has come in the form of individual donations. More than $12,000 has been collectively donated to the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis’ Sexual Assault Resource Fund. 

A climate-controlled storage room that can hold up to 50,000 pieces of DNA evidence is projected to be completed by late May. The city council allocated $1 million to the MPD for its establishment. The storage room will be located in the old International Harvester building.

“We have an unprecedented opportunity to get additional justice in our community,” McGowen said. “We understand that there are individuals who are worrying about the status of their case and do not have closure in that part of their lives. This work is so important to do.”

Rape Kits By the Numbers:

• 12,374 total rape kits discovered untested in 2013/2014

• 6,340 kits untested by end of December 2014

• 2,075 kits at forensic laboratories now

• 1,142 processed for at least serology

• 1,771 negative for serology

• 1,046 processed for DNA

• 281 investigations have been initiated

• 105 investigations remain active

• 176 investigations have been closed

• 21 individuals identified as being previously convicted

• 52 indictments issued

• 19 named suspects

• 33 John Does (unidentified)

• 22 victims/suspects are deceased

• 30 victims declined to participate in an investigation

• 2 victims were unable to be located by law enforcement

• 28 cases were past the statute of limitations

• 19 cases had insufficient/degraded DNA

• 3 cases investigated did not meet the statute definitions of a crime

By Louis Goggans

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