A Reuters story about a man who has just pleaded guilty to an 18-year old sexual assault in New York stood out to us this week. This particular case highlights what an important tool DNA can be in identifying perpetrators of sexual assault. It’s also demonstrates that, even almost two decades later, rape kit testing can lead to justice.

In 1993, a man violently attacked and raped a woman in her Lower East Side apartment building. A rape kit collected from the victim after the crime and it was eventually tested in 2002 when New York City tested all 16,000+ rape kits that were part of its backlog.

As DNA profiles found in many of the rape kits were uploaded into the national DNA databank, called CODIS, and linked to profiles of known offenders, New York City began to see results immediately–the arrest rate for rape jumped from 40% (which was already above the national average) to 70%.

However, many rape kits–including this one from the 1993 case–yielded DNA profiles that were eligible to be uploaded into the database but that did not link to a known offender, making an arrest or conviction impossible until a matching profile from another crime could be uploaded.

In 2003 when New York State still had a 10-year statue of limitations for sexual assault cases in effect, the Manhattan DA’s office indicted the DNA profile from this case, stopping the clock on the statute of limitations and making an arrest possible when the perpetrator’s identity eventually became known. In March of 2010, Alberto Barriera was identified through a hit in the DNA databank following a conviction for another felony in Virginia.

The district attorney’s office has identified 14 of the 56 profiles indicted since 2000.

The “John Doe” indictment, as this process is called, also led to the conviction of the perpetrator in the case of Natasha Alexanko, a survivor who shared her story with us earlier in the year on the Backlog Blog and is the founder of Natasha’s Justice Project, an organization created to empower survivors of sexual assault by getting their rape kits off the shelves and tested so that their perpetrator(s) are brought to justice.

The 18-year old case of Alberto Barriera also highlights the convictions that would result from expanding New York’s DNA Databank. The perpetrator in this 1993 case was convicted of misdemeanors twice in New York–in 1999 and 2004–but state law did not allow his DNA to be collected in either case. Collecting a DNA profile upon either one of those convictions would have allowed him to be brought to justice years earlier.

From a press release by the New York District Attorney’s Office:

This case highlights once again how an expanded DNA databank, which would include DNA from all Penal Law convictions, would have helped solve this case years earlier. After the rape, Barriera was convicted in New York of misdemeanors in 1999 and 2004. Since DNA evidence from the 1993 rape case had been analyzed in 2002, if the defendant’s DNA had been eligible to be collected after his misdemeanor convictions and entered into the National DNA databank, justice for the victim could have been delivered eight years earlier. Currently, only Penal Law felonies and some misdemeanors are eligible for post-conviction collection.

Earlier this summer, Joyful Heart was part of a group of advocates and law enforcement agencies from across the state that called on the New York State legislature to pass legislation that would have expanded the New York DNA databank to include samples collected from all convicted offenders in the State. Though Governor Cuomo put his support behind the bill, lawmakers were unable to get it passed this legislative session. We’re hopeful that next year, the New York Assembly and Senate will see that by expanding the DNA databank, they can would create greater opportunities for healing and justice for survivors and their families. We’re also hopeful that as jurisdictions continue to initiate rape kit reform, they look to the example of New York City to see that testing rape kits can have solve crimes and bring justice to survivors years into the future.