Georgia rape kit backlog cleared; hundreds of cases connect to other crimes

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - More than 3,000 rape kits found untested in police evidence lockers have all undergone lab tests by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation less than three years after state legislature passed a law to eliminate the backlog. This came in an announcement Friday from the GBI director and the lawmaker who spearheaded the measure.

DNA tests on the rape kits - some of which languished for 15 years - have produced evidence linking 321 cases to suspects in other crimes and have identified two serial rapists, according to State Rep. Scott Holbomb, the Atlanta Democrat who sponsored the 2016 law.

“The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has done an incredible job processing these kits and working through the evidence,” Holcomb said. “It has always been about pursuing justice for victims. Now, we look forward to additional prosecutions to bring justice forward.”

GOP House Speaker David Ralston said Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly approved the 2016 law, which required police departments to submit rape and sexual assault kits performed at hospitals to the GBI for testing within 30 days of collection.

The GBI also received $1.6 million for new scientists and equipment to tackle the enormous backlog of untested kits, some of which had been untouched for a decade or more.

“They went back 15-plus years,” GBI Director Vernon Keenan said. “They were in evidence rooms and forgotten about. Some of them were new, some of them were very old. The kits were just warehoused and no further action was taken.”

Not all cases that yielded evidence from DNA tests are being prosecuted. Keenan said in some older cases the victims have chosen not to pursue charges because they don't want to relive the assaults.

The Executive Director of the Rape Crisis Center of the Coastal Empire, Doris Williams, commented, saying, “It could be fear of the process of going to court, fear of law-enforcement, or just bringing all those emotions again, and they’re in a good place.”

While the news Friday was a relief for Williams, the duration of time it took to clear the backlog still leaves her unsettled.

“It’s just sad that it was allowed to go so long,” Williams said. “We all knew there were so many people probably slipping through the cracks, and not discovered yet, and that just proves the point.”

Holcomb said he hopes greater compliance by police departments will help avoid future backlogs. The GBI receives an average of 250 new sexual assault kits to test each month.

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