On August 30, 1997, an 18-year-old woman was walking home from a friend’s house in Columbus, Ohio when a stranger violently attacked and raped her. She went to a hospital, had a rape kit collected, and reported the crime to police.
The crime lab analyzed the kit and DNA evidence was obtained, but no further steps were taken in her case. Her case sat on a shelf at the Columbus Division of Police Crime Lab for over 19 years.
In 2016, as part of a cold case initiative, her kit was sent to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation for further analysis. The state lab re-tested the kit, developed a suspect DNA profile, and uploaded it to the federal DNA database, where this time they found a match: Joseph E. Carter.
Carter was well known to law enforcement agencies in both Columbus and Cuyahoga County—he had previously been arrested for aggravated murder, domestic violence, and an array of drug-related offenses.
In March 2016, Carter was found in Tulsa, Oklahoma and extradited to Columbus to face trial for the 1997 crime. Last month, 20 years after the attack, Carter was finally convicted for rape.
When advocates talk about ending the backlog, we often focus on the hundreds of thousands of rape kits that have languished in evidence storage rooms at law enforcement agencies or hospitals and were never submitted to the lab at all. This case illustrates the importance of reconsidering all cold cases. Kits that were once sent for testing may have remained untested at the lab, or may have only been partially analyzed, as happened in this case.
When jurisdictions re-evaluate cold cases and test all rape kits, they can identify unknown perpetrators, confirm the presence of known suspects, identify serial offenders of violent crimes, and exonerate the innocent.
Most importantly, testing these kits offers a path to justice and healing for sexual assault survivors, some of whom, like this Columbus woman, have had to wait decades.
-By Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy & Advocacy, May 8, 2017
END THE BACKLOG is an initiative 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.