The issue of evidence storage and testing recently received a lot of media attention when Wayne County, Michigan, Prosecutor Kym Worthy made a shocking discovery of over 10,000 untested rape kits, some decades old, within a police storage warehouse. In August of 2009, Assistant Prosecutor Rob Spada called Worthy after taking a tour of a downtown Detroit warehouse, which was used as an overflow storage facility by the police. At the time, the police’s system for processing evidence was in disarray. Spada was called to the facility to help the police figure out how to catalog and sort what they had at the facility. As Spada walked through the warehouse he stumbled upon rows of boxes.
Within those dusty boxes, Worthy and her team discovered 11,303 untested rape kits. Rape kits are what hospitals use to collect DNA evidence from a victim in hopes that police can test it and identify their rapist. The DNA evidence is often the most important evidence used to convict in a rape case. One of the 11,303 victims recounts the numerous phone calls she made to the police station regarding her sexual assault. The phone calls yielded little information and eventually she stopped calling. At the time, the victim was unaware that her rape kit was untested until 14 years later when an individual from the District Attorney’s Office came to her door.
So far, 600 kits have been tested, and investigators say that they have discovered evidence of 21 serial rapists. Some of the kits tested have revealed sobering results. One kit from 2002 revealed DNA belonging to a man who was in prison for the murder of three women. The murders had been committed during the seven years the rape kit sat, untouched on a warehouse shelf.
Possibly even more shocking than the 10,000 plus untested rape kits, is that Wayne County is not alone with this problem. This is happening across the country. From Chicago to Los Angeles to Houston, cities are grappling with thousands of untested rape kites. Through a national grant, Worthy is attempting to set a protocol for how other states tackle backlogged rape kits.
Recent media coverage of this story focuses on the countless victims who have been affected. However, I have yet to come across a story discussing the ramifications this epidemic of lost or backlogged evidence effects numerous wrongfully incarcerated inmates. Working for the California Innocence Project provides a unique insight into the uphill battle facing wrongfully incarcerated individuals who fight to prove their innocence. Often times, the battle abruptly ends because the evidence cannot be located or. The idea that across the nation in property rooms evidence is sitting misplace and untested is unfathomable and shameful.