House budget proposal includes $3.6 million for expert witness fund for prosecutions related to untested rape kits

03/16/2016 10:06 AM

UPDATED: Inside House Democrats version of the two-year spending plan is an additional $3.6 million set aside to support fees in the prosecutions of cases tied to the backlog of untested rape kits still awaiting testing in Kentucky.

The dollars follow a Pure Politics investigation into the thousands of untested rape kits still waiting testing in the commonwealth.

Pure Politics uncovered consternation among prosecutors who predict high costs in taking on cases sparked from the testing of the kits tied to out-of-state DNA analysis.

Kenton Co. Commonwealth Attorney Rob Sanders said on average fees for out-of-state analysts are $2,000 to $5,000 per witness, which would include witness fees and travel costs.

Prosecutors have to establish a chain of custody for each person taking possession of evidence. Everyone who handles the kits has to be called as witnesses in a criminal prosecution.

Sanders said outside labs, potentially including the two companies bidding on the request for proposal from the Kentucky State Police to test up to 3,300 previously untested rape kits in Kentucky, can include multiple analysts in the chain of custody.

Inside the House version of the state’s $21.7 billion biennial spending plan Democrats have earmarked settlement funds from Johnson & Johnson regarding the schizophrenia drug Risperdal. A $15.5 million settlement decided in late December of 2015.

The budget stipulates that current Attorney General Andy Beshear, after the payment of attorney’s fees and expenses, will transfer $3.6 million of the settlement funds to establish a “Justice for Rape Victims Fund” in the Prosecutor’s Advisory Council.

The funds would be used to support fees for expert witnesses and other costs associated with cases and future prosecutions in rape, the budget says.

It will also be used to “increased victim advocacy on rape kit backlogged cases, development of model protocol on sexual assault cases, and enhanced training and resources for prosecutors and victim advocates in the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault in the Office of Victims Advocacy in the Office of the Attorney General.”

Attorney General Andy Beshear said the additional prosecutorial funding will “close the gap” between the $4.5 million in funding provided to the Kentucky State Police to add staff, equipment and chemicals to ensure victims have their evidence processed.

“What it’s going to allow us to do is pursue justice for these victims with all due haste,” Beshear said in a phone interview. “It means that once we get that CODIS hit we have a dedicated fund to cover new and outside costs so that we can really go at this problem. And, in the Attorney General’s Office we are thrilled that this was included in the budget.”

The House Committee Substitute to House Bill 303 also calls for funds to be used for software updates, maintenance, and database expansion concerning data collected on child sexual abuse by the Office of the Attorney General to improve the capture of data on sex crimes committed against adults, sexual assault kits, and prosecution and conviction rates.

If the funding stays in place and Gov. Bevin signs the funding bill into law, the settlement fund transfer would happen immediately, Beshear said.

In the course of the investigation Pure Politics also found that the Kentucky State Police does not know the full scope of untested rape kits in the commonwealth despite an extensive audit conducted in 2015 and systemic issues regarding the reporting of those cases.

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@twcnews.com.

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