Testing rape kits for DNA may be the law in Ohio. But following up on the results to reinvestigate the crimes is not.
Aside from Cleveland, which has logged convictions in 370 rape kit cases since 2013, only a few dozen other cases across the state have made it to a courtroom.
A survey of law enforcement agencies statewide, conducted by The Plain Dealer and community volunteers, found that in many cases, police departments and sheriff’s offices are not reinvestigating thousands of older cases tested in recent years, even when DNA results identify possible suspects or linked cases.
Agencies that have followed-up cases say victims are often reluctant to have their cases reopened, or they recant allegations, if they can locate them at all. When police do have a victim willing to cooperate, prosecutors often decline to file charges or present the case to a grand jury.
The Plain Dealer, with the help of more than 100 community volunteers, attempted to survey all 294 law enforcement agencies that sent in rape kits for testing as part of the Sexual Assault Kit Testing Initiative, which kicked off in late 2011 when Attorney General Mike DeWine issued an “open call” for the more than 800 law enforcement agencies in Ohio to send any kits that had not previously been tested for DNA.
Testing became mandatory in 2015 and the project continued, until February when the attorney general’s office announced that state labs had completed testing on 13,931 kits. Those tests yielded 5,052 DNA hits or matches in CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System, as of Sept. 18.
More than half, 152 agencies, responded to The Plain Dealer’s 25-question survey or provided information to reporters who collaborated in reporting this story.
Those agencies surveyed contributed 7,316 of the rape kits submitted statewide for testing.
Finding a DNA profile in a rape kit doesn’t mean a case is solved. It’s a starting point for an investigation, one that involves tracking down a victim, suspects, witnesses, old police reports and medical records.
A DNA hit might provide the name of a potential suspect, based on a criminal profile collected by law enforcement after an arrest for a felony or a past conviction.
Or, it might provide a link to another unsolved case where the lab found the same DNA profile of an unknown person.