At ENDTHEBACKLOG, we emphasize the importance of testing every rape kit booked into police evidence so that victims of sexual assault can seek justice and begin the process of healing. Due to the nationwide rape kit backlog, some victims must wait years—even decades—before they see their cases resolved because their kits languished in police storage rooms, unaccounted for and untested. In some cases, this delay in testing allows the perpetrator to remain at large, free to commit other offenses.
Over the coming weeks, we will feature a series, Cold Case Convictions, highlighting cases from across the country in which the testing of rape kits years later helps bring countless perpetrators to justice. This series demonstrates the consequences in allowing rape kits to remain untested, as well as the value DNA evidence has for bringing justice to victims of sexual assault.
This week, we examine cases from Ohio and Michigan.
After more than 20 years, the rape committed against Cassandra Gregory has finally been brought to justice.
According to ABC News, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation has discovered that the DNA from Gregory’s 20-year-old rape kit matched that of Victor Hill. On June 4, Hill was convicted and sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison on the charge of rape.
Hill assaulted Gregory on September 24, 1993, while she was walking home from work.
Last month, she faced her attacker in a Cuyahoga County courtroom and described how she had lived in fear since the rape: "Today is the day I break free. That night alone has haunted me for a long time—not knowing what you looked like, not knowing if you'd come up behind me one day and I'd not know."
The resolution of the case was made possible by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office Sexaul Assault Kit Testing Initiative, which encourages all law enforcement agencies to send the untested kits in their custody to the state crime lab for testing. Gregory’s story presents a poignant example of why testing rape kits is extremely important for improving the effectiveness of our legal system and bringing healing to survivors of sexual assault.
The testing of rape kits has indeed allowed for an increasing number of cases to be resolved through DNA evidence. According to ABC News, the testing of a ten-year-old rape kit has led to the conviction of DeShawn Starks of Detroit.
In February 2003, Starks attacked a woman who was on her way home in Detroit. He “pulled out a gun, robbed the woman, then drove her to a wooded area where he raped her.” For ten years, her rape kit sat in storage untested.
The delay in testing provided Starks with the opportunity to rape another woman five months later in 2003, and her rape kit also remained shelved for ten years.
Investigations in 2013, which were part of Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s efforts to end the backlog, revealed matches between the rape kits from the 2003 cases and Starks. Only after Starks raped two more women in November of 2013 was he charged and sentenced to 45 to 90 years in prison for those offenses.
As these cases reveal, the testing of rape kits not only provides an opportunity for justice and healing for survivors, but also can prevent future crimes.
-By Jaclyn Katz and Sophia Schrager, July 9th, 2014
ENDTHEBACKLOG is a program of the Joyful Heart Foundation to shine a light on the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the United States. Our goal is to end this injustice by conducting groundbreaking research identifying the extent of the nation’s backlog and best practices for eliminating it, expanding the national dialogue on rape kit testing through increased public awareness, engaging communities and government agencies and officials and advocating for comprehensive rape kit reform legislation and policies at the local, state and federal levels. We urge you to learn more about the backlog, where it exists and why it matters. We invite you to take action and support efforts to test rape kits. Help us send the message that we must take rape seriously.