Thursday, July 14, 2011

Twelve Year Old Rape Kit Leads To Rapist

Houston PD isn't the only agency that has had a huge backlog of rape kits languishing in their evidence vault. But there is a story over at the Houston Chronicle that demonstrates why it's important to get things moving at crime labs across the country.

After calling police, the teen underwent a sexual assault examination. That rape kit evidence was placed in the Houston Police Department property room — and that's where it sat, untested for 12 years.

Last month, after a Houston Police Department investigator re-examined the case and requested the evidence be tested, the identity of the alleged rapist was uncovered: Roland Ali Westbrooks, 36, convicted and sentenced in 1997 for raping another Houston woman.

Westbrooks, serving a 28-year sentence in a Texas prison after pleading guilty to the 1997 rape charge, was charged Monday with aggravated sexual assault of the 16-year-old, according to court records.

This is the first such case to come to light since the Houston Chronicle reported last month that almost 4,000 sexual assault kits — some dating to the 1990s — sit in an HPD property room freezer awaiting testing.

There is a real need for reform in the system of crime labs across the country. The high cost of running crime labs along with several crime lab scandals have led some departments to do away with crime labs and send their evidence for testing elsewhere. This and an increase in the use of DNA evidence has led to the backlog of cases for testing.

These kinds of issues do a real disservice to the victims of these awful crimes. We can do better than this. However, it's going to take funding in state and local governments' budgets to start chipping away at these backlogs.

I wonder how many more crimes will be solved by eliminating the testing backlog?

3 comments:

  1. Thanks, Scott for a great and timely post. I think it's important also that we encourage and receive private sector support for crime labs. It doesn't have to be sponsorship - though, the "Fort Worth Parkay Margarine Crime Lab" would be pretty funny - but there should be some way of getting community and non-governmental organizations together to raise money to help. That seems a lot more palatable than raising taxes, or wresting budget-dollars from the hands of state bureaucrats.

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  2. At some point though, the government has to pony up to adequately fund the crime lab system. This is part of the criminal justice system. That's one of those services that they are supposed to provide.

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  3. Absolutely agreed. I would look to private sector contributions to enhance, not substitute for, government funds.

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