Even after backlogged rape kits tested, convictions are rare

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- “I had just pulled into the apartment building that I lived at, and I was abducted” said a woman who asked to be identified as Jane.

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Jane

CBS News

“He came up to me with a gun, he broke my nose, lacerated my face and ultimately he beat and raped me,” she said quietly.

Jane was raped in 1990. She lives in Memphis, Tennessee, where the police announced in 2013 that they had 12,000 untested rape kits.

“You have fingerprints and DNA available to catch someone and you don’t test the kit? I would say they didn’t try to catch him,” she said.

Police records show the last time a detective worked on the case was two weeks after the rape.

“Whatever road that I was on that night was taken away,” Jane said. “It’s made me scared of the dark.”

Amy Weirich is the district attorney general for Shelby County, Tennessee.

“How do you get to 12,000? I mean, why wasn’t there an alarm I guess that went off at 2,000, 3,000, 5,000?” CBS News’ Jericka Duncan asked her.

“I don’t know how it actually built up and how that number got to be what it was, but it did, and we immediately said, ‘here’s what we are going to do,’” Weirich replied.

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Amy Weirich

CBS News

Of the 7,000 rape kits that have been sent away for testing so far, 3,742 contained some form of DNA evidence.

But just 10 people have been convicted of rape.

“It’s not a high number, but that number that will go up, but it’s a number that we are proud of because it’s taking everything that we have that we can throw at these individuals and making sure that they’re brought to justice,” Weirich said.

CBS News examined four cities that tested over 28,000 rape kits, which only resulted in a one percent conviction rate. Houston tested more than 6,000 kits resulting in 28 convictions so far. Detroit tested 10,000 kits, and to date, just 69 rapists are off the streets.

But it is a different story in Cleveland, where the state of Ohio paid for testing to the city could afford to hire more staff.

“They could proceed almost like to second base, where they could focus on investigating and prosecuting,” said Rachel Lovell, a senior research associate Case Western Reserve University who studied the rape kit testing results.

“The savings doesn’t come with the testing. The savings comes with what you do with that test,” she said.

The county hired 25 additional investigators and six prosecutors, and that got results. After testing 5,000 kits, they got 239 convictions, more than the other three cities combined.

Jane’s kit was submitted over a year ago for testing. It’s possible her rapist’s profile could match another assault by him already in the national database.

“He might be dead, which I hope, he might be behind bars,” Jane said. “I might not be able to find out but I need to know.”

The statute of limitations for Jane’s case has expired, and she’s joined a lawsuit suing the city for failing to test her rape kit. This is as much about resources as prosecutions; In Memphis, they’ve added an additional investigator and a prosecutor.