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Rape-kit results trickle in and offer closure, but much more is to be done

Published October 6, 2015 11:25 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A 14-year-old girl was walking in West Valley City when she became victim to a nightmarish attack.

A stranger grabbed the girl, in public, and raped her.

After that, the girl did everything she could to secure justice, said West Valley City Detective Justin Boardman. The girl reported the rape immediately. She underwent a rape exam to collect samples that were promptly submitted for lab analysis.



But detectives eventually ran out of leads. Rapes by strangers are rare, Boardman said. The victim's only information about her attacker was in the rape kit that ultimately joined 2,700 others in a statewide backlog.

That was about two years ago.

Now, after a year of efforts infused by grants and state and federal funding, state officials say that at least some of those kits are making their way to results. The state crime lab on Tuesday reported that it had finalized results from 102 of 1,248 rape kits police in Utah have submitted since October 2014.

More than 700 were sent to a private lab, which has returned 258 of the kits. More than half of those await final review by the state crime lab.

"There's a lot of back and forth [communication] when you're looking at all this really technical analytical data," said Jay Henry, the state crime lab's director.

The findings from those 102 kits appear underwhelming at first: Only 15 produced results that were usable as profiles to be entered into the national database that tracks DNA in criminal cases.

That's because kits that test negative or inconclusive can be processed more quickly, Henry said, so they are over-represented in the early results. He expects later results to provide more information on suspects.

Many of Utah's untested rape kits languished in police evidence rooms because, investigators have argued, the victims in most rape cases know their accused assailants and DNA evidence may not be instrumental in prosecuting a case. But victim advocates in recent years have pushed for all rape kits to be tested so that investigators can track the DNA of serial offenders, or those who cross state lines.

Other rape kits — such as that of the 14-year-old in West Valley City — were delayed because of an overloaded, understaffed state crime lab, Boardman said.

But as the new funds begin to clear the backlog, some of the DNA profiles are finding matches in the national database. Eight of the 102 finalized kits pointed to profiles previously logged.

In September, Boardman finally received a match from the 14-year-old's rape kit.

His DNA was entered into the database stemming from juvenile offenses, Boardman said. The man, 18 or 19 years old at the time of the attack, previously had been charged with sexual battery and "apparently escalated to stranger rape."

But there will be no day in court for the victim. The suspect was arrested in an unrelated crime and hanged himself in the Salt Lake County Jail about two months after the rape.

What Boardman hopes the result will bring is closure.

"She doesn't have to be looking over her shoulder anymore," he said.

 

 

 

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