State awarded grant to analyze untested rape kits

DETROIT (AP) -- A women's support group has awarded Michigan State Police a federal grant to begin analyzing hundreds of rape kits sitting untested at the Detroit Police crime lab.

The $650,000 grant through the Michigan Domestic Violence Prevention & Treatment Board will help police process samples of evidence taken from sexual assault victims and compare those results with the DNA of known offenders.

The rape kits contain semen, hair and other evidence taken from victims that could contain DNA of their attackers, board executive director Debi Cain said.

"Each of these untested kits represents a sexual assault victim who trusted our system to be there for them," Cain told The Detroit News. "It's no easy thing for a victim to go through testing. But it's devastating for a system you trust to let you down."

Cain said an additional $150,000 will go toward updating old kits or buying new ones.

Michigan State Police took over the Detroit crime lab in September 2008 after it was determined that firearms cases had been improperly handled.

Detroit Police ordered a review last year after 10,500 untested rape kits were discovered in the crime lab. Most of the rape kits that have been reviewed were from cases in which DNA evidence was not needed, said Detroit Police 2nd Deputy Chief John Roach.

Roach said those kits were either from cases where the perpetrator confessed, the victim refused to press charges or the perpetrator was known.

He did not know how many of the 10,500 kits had been reviewed.

Assistant prosecutor Maria Miller, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, said the final determination on each rape kit will come from her office.

"It is a legal decision that can only be made by prosecutors interviewing the complainants, reviewing the facts and the evidence on a case by case basis," she said.

The funding, obtained last month, comes from Services, Training, Officers and Prosecutors, STOP, a criminal justice grant designated to combat violence against women.

But the one-time grant will barely put a dent in the backlog.

State Police have estimated that if one technician had nothing else to do, it would take him or her 58 years to complete the testing of all the kits.

Capt. Michael Thomas, who oversees Michigan's seven State Police labs, said he is grateful for the grant, which he estimates will pay for the processing of 400 kits to be selected at random.

"It costs about $1,000 a kit," Thomas said. "But tests alone aren't enough. You have to have fund police to investigate or background the crime and then the prosecutors needed to review and seek."

The success of the sample testing will provide an idea of what it will cost to analyze all 10,500, he said.

The domestic violence group's involvement comes amid concerns about the State Police's ability to keep pace with old and new cases.

State Rep. Richard LeBlanc, D-Westland, will hold an information hearing Feb. 18 in Lansing on the processing of criminal evidence in Michigan.

"Evidence in murder, rapes and firearms cases, which might have been processed in a few months a few years ago, can take upwards of a year now," LeBlanc said. "That's too long, and keeps criminals on the street, unpunished, and also free to victimize others."

Published: Tue, Feb 9, 2010