Candidates for attorney general promise action on untested sexual assault kits in Ky.

09/22/2015 12:44 PM

Candidates for attorney general are promising significant action on a backlog of 3,090 untested sexual assault evidence kits in Kentucky.

The backlog of untested rape kits was released as part of an audit conducted by Adam Edelen, which was released on Monday. Edelen’s investigation found “breakdowns at every step of the process, from the time a victim presents to a hospital to undergo an exam, to the failure of law enforcement to submit kits for testing and long delays at the Kentucky State Police Forensic Laboratory to analyze the evidence.”

Democratic candidate Andy Beshear and Republican candidate Whitney Westerfield say they will use the weight of the attorney general’s office to make repairs to the system and move through the backlog of kits.

“I’m thankful for State Auditor Adam Edelen’s efforts to shed light on this crisis and if elected, I pledge to make this a top priority for the Office of Attorney General,” Beshear said in a press release. “It is unacceptable that Kentucky currently has over 3,000 untested sexual assault kits, which could solve thousands of sexual assault investigations, bring justice for victims across the Commonwealth, and protect women and children across the nation.”

Beshear said, if elected, he would establish a task force “focused solely on identifying and convicting hundreds of serial rapists.”

Edelen, a Democrat also up for re-election this year, predicts that a number of rapists will be brought to justice as a result of the investigation, but he also warned the state could end up in the same situation if nothing is done to remedy the problem after the backlog of kits are processed.

The auditor is seeking reforms to how kits are sent to the crime lab and an increase in funding.

According to Louisville NPR affiliate WFPL, Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, is crafting legislation to get additional funding for the kits and deal with potential reforms.

On Monday, Westerfield, a Hopkinsville Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that any legislation pursued in the 2016 session “will be written after conversations and direct input from all law enforcement, the leadership of the forensic laboratories, and those closest to this issue.”

In a statement, Westerfield pointed to Gov. Steve Beshear, the father of his Democratic challenger, for funding woes at the crime lab.

“I am disappointed in the lack of attention our Governor has given this sensitive issue,” Westerfield said in a statement. “Time and time again, the lab has had its budget slashed and our investigators and researchers have met each cut with a make-do attitude.”

“If we truly want to see the unnecessarily large stacks of backlogged rape kits and other evidence tested, we must address the lab’s lack of sufficient funding,” Westerfield continued. “Other states have set a priority of eliminating their backlogs, funded the effort, and successfully moved the process forward for the victims of these horrific crimes. There is no reason Kentucky can’t do the same.”

In an interview with Pure Politics on Tuesday, Edelen said that the “blame lies with the scarcity mentality we’ve had in state government for the last ten years.”

“This is one of those things that I don’t know it is particularly productive to go around pointing fingers — there’s plenty of blame to go around,” Edelen said. “Rather than wasting bandwidth on playing the blame game, I’m more interested in building a system that is a monument to survivors of this terrible crime and make sure we’ve got government on the side of rape victims.”

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics, the only nightly program dedicated to Kentucky politics. Nick covers all of the political heavyweights and his investigative work brings to light issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, like the connection between the high profile Steubenville, Ohio rape and a Kentucky hacker whose push for further investigation could put him in federal prison. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickStorm_cn2. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@charter.com.

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