Previously untested sexual assault kit links with serial rapist; As kits come back work continues to inform victims

03/21/2017 03:15 PM

Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series on Kentucky’s attempts to clear the backlog of untested sexual assault cases.

The first batches of previously backlogged sexual assault kits have been returning to Kentucky, rechecked by Kentucky State Police analysts and entered into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Combined DNA Index System database.

Victims are beginning to be notified by law enforcement in an effort to reopen cases and potentially prosecute offenders. In Louisville, the metro police department’s special victims unit is in the process of notifying victims, and they have already come across a case which involves a currently imprisoned serial rapist.

Two-thousand nine hundred cases have already been sent to Sorensen Forensics, a Utah-based laboratory tasked with analyzing the kits, since the end of May, according to state police. A total of 3,173 kits will be shipped with the DANY, or New York County District Attorney’s Office, grant provided to the state to clear the backlog last year.

That grant is worth $1.9 million and supplied to the Kentucky State Police, who sought the contract with Sorensen.

Currently, 1,649 cases have been completed by Sorensen Forensics and case files sent from the lab to the Kentucky State Police. Lab analysts for KSP have technically reviewed 349 of the case files.

From the 349 cases, 113 profiles have been entered into the CODIS database. From those 113 profiles, there have been 58 offender hits, giving police an opportunity to notify those victims and seek prosecutions.

That 51 percent “hit rate” is higher than the lab was expecting, KSP Forensic Laboratory System Director Laura Sudkamp told Pure Politics in a phone interview.

Most of the cases that KSP have been matching lead back to Louisville, where law enforcement has submitted 2,000 kits for testing, according to Detective Sgt. Tim Stokes of the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Special Victims Unit.

Stokes said currently there have been 41 of those hits in the Louisville area. He and his team have been able to notify 14 of those victims of a positive match and begin the process of either reopening their cases and pairing them with detectives and prosecutors or moving on to other cases.

“Some of those people based on the time of offense and the time of reporting are more difficult to locate based on timing,” Stokes said in a phone interview. “We’re using all of our police resources to locate them either through phones, addresses and or social media.”

One of the cases links back to a serial offender, Stokes said.

“I think we will identify more serial offenders,” he said. “We do have one case that was notified where the serial offender is currently incarcerated for three Jefferson County cases, he is indicated in a backlog case with a victim, and he has a case, I believe, in Ohio.”

Stokes said because the offender is already imprisoned the victim did not wish to continue in the prosecution of that case.

With but a small portion of the backlogged kits making their way back into the state, Stokes wanted victims and the public to know it’s a “slow process.”

“The first week got two or three (cases), the next week we got two or three more. That’s a relatively manageable number to keep up with,” he said. “Last week I got 11 or 12 and being able to find 11 or 12 people in a matter of just a couple of days is not necessarily practical.”

Some cases could make their way to a county attorney or commonwealth’s attorney in a matter of weeks, Stokes said, but other cases in which the victim is difficult to locate it could take months to locate a victim.

As Pure Politics first reported in 2016 there are numerous other previously untested sexual assault kits in the state that were not identified in a 2015 audit.

Among those kits are so-called “boomerang cases,” essentially kits that had been shipped to the state crime lab for testing but went untested for a variety of reasons and were returned to law enforcement agencies.

There is now a coordinated effort to recapture those kits and test them, but the DANY grant being used to test kits will have already been exhausted after dealing with a significant portion of the previously identified cases.

Sudkamp said there are two employees in her unit who are tasked with tracking down those untested kits.

“They’re opening every sexual assault case that has been submitted,” she said. “… They’re reviewing over 8,000 cases by popping them each open and seeing where they’re at. Then they contact the agency and let them know, ‘We’ve got these cases that we’d like to come back, will you please check your evidence room?’”

Sudkamp said they’re expecting to get “quite a few of those” boomerang cases, and they are currently seeking grant money to test those.

Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs Executive Director Eileen Recktenwald said stakeholders have worked together better than ever before to implement the SAFE Act and shepherd the effort to clear the backlog.

“We’ve held meetings across the state and put a large emphasis on educating and training law enforcement, prosecutors, hospitals and other stakeholders on the new policies and their roles in the processes,” she said.

“Much work remains to be done to analyze, investigate and prosecute backlog cases as well as ensuring another backlog never happens.”

Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics available exclusively on Spectrum News. Pure Politics is 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 his coverage of the backlog of DNA rape kits waiting to be tested in Kentucky. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Pure Politics airs weeknight at 7 and 11:30 on Spectrum News or anytime with Spectrum On Demand.Follow Nick on Twitter @NStorm_Politics. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@charter.com.

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