Auditor Edelen launches review of untested rape kits in hands of law enforcement

04/15/2015 05:46 PM

FRANKFORT — Eleven years after her assault beneath a neighbor’s porch, Michelle Kuiper learned her assailant’s DNA was found in two other rape kits tested by police.

Six years later, that man received a prison sentence spanning three decades.

Kuiper’s ordeal reached a judicial resolution, but state Auditor Adam Edelen says hundreds, if not thousands, of untested rape kits remain in police custody thanks largely to backlogs at Kentucky State Police crime labs.

Edelen announced a review of untested rape kits on Wednesday. Senate Joint Resolution 20, which called on Edelen’s office to count the number of pending kits in the hands of law enforcement, brought the matter to the auditor’s attention, and Edelen said he will take additional steps in identifying ways to alleviate the backlog.

“The ultimate goal of this effort,” he said, “is to identify perpetrators of sexual violence who have been walking free and bring justice to their survivors.”

Edelen added: “I’ve decided to go beyond the simple resolution passed by the legislature and examine the underlying reasons certain kits never get tested, studying best practices from around the country and making recommendations for meaningful and effective reform.”

Edelen said his office will send 19-question surveys to more than 400 local law enforcement offices this week, and he expects his review will be complete by early fall.

DNA testing at KSP’s labs now take between six to nine months to complete because of low funding and understaffing, said Laura Sudkamp, manager of the KSP Central Lab in Frankfort. That’s created a backlog of untested samples in other criminal cases, such as murders and burglaries, she said.

Kuiper, who said she never finished college after her attacker took her beneath a neighbor’s porch and assaulted her when she was a freshman at the University of Louisville in 1994, said her rape kit was first tested in 2005.

The perpetrator’s DNA matched evidence found in two other rape kits, and he was sentenced to33 years in prison in 2011, she said.

“There’s really no prison term that would have been enough for him is the way I feel about that,” Kuiper said. “I am very thankful for … everyone who played a part in putting him away because it was very important, but in retrospect to that, we’re not just black and white on a piece of paper. We are real people. We have real lives we have to go back to.”

The matter stretches beyond partisan politics. Edelen, a Democrat, praised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for his work on the issue, and he dismissed the notion that a potential run for higher office in 2016 could derail any legislative effort next year to resolve the backlog of untested rape kits.

“The one thing that I took a lot of solace from is the fact that Senate Joint Resolution 20 passed with overwhelming bipartisan support,” Edelen said.

“The status quo outraged Republicans as much as it outraged Democrats, and we have a special and unique opportunity here to galvanize the whole of the body politic around a significant reform effort that not only will prove that victims matter, but that will bring some of the worst criminal element to justice.”

Gretchen Hunt, staff attorney for the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, told Pure Politics that increased attention on sexual violence will only add awareness to Kentucky’s backlog of untested rape kits.

“These are issues we’ve worked on for years,” Hunt said. “I think they’re now just getting to the public’s eye, and we’re seeing leaders like Auditor Edelen, Sen. Denise Harper Angel, a number of legislators who’ve brought up these issues of concern. They’re taking the lead, and that’s what changes the conversation.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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