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Untested rape kits

The label on an untested rape evidence kit at the Scott County Sheriff's Office.

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office said that 95 out of more than 4,200 untested sexual assault kits that have been sitting in evidence in law enforcement agencies across the state have been sent for testing as of Friday.

Eric Tabor, chief deputy Iowa Attorney General, said 17 of the 95 kits have been submitted from the Davenport Police Department. One kit has been submitted from the Bettendorf Police Department and one kit has been submitted from the Scott County Sheriff’s Office, he said.

Tabor said he expects the results to come back in the fall.

The submission of the kits is part of an ongoing effort by state and local officials to analyze the untested kits for potential evidence that could help prosecutors identify and charge assailants.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller announced in March the results of an audit, known as the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, which found that there were 4,265 kits that have not been tested throughout the state.

The audit was the result of legislation passed in 2016 requiring the survey and a report to the Legislature. It is funded by a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice and is part of a nationwide effort to address a backlog of untested kits.

Iowa law requires law enforcement to retain sexual assault kits for 10 years for adult victims and 10 years following a minor victim's 18th birthday.

The law also has a separate statute of limitations for old sexual assault cases; the three-year time frame begins to run if, through the development of a DNA profile, investigators discover the identity of a previously unknown perpetrator, according to the attorney general's office.

According to the report, Davenport police had 463 untested kits, Bettendorf police had 25 untested kits and the Scott County Sheriff's Office had 12. Blue Grass, Buffalo, Eldridge and LeClaire police departments did not have any untested kits, according to the report.

The state survey found that 800 of the kits, or nearly 19 percent, were untested because the victim did not want to file charges. Lack of cooperation by the victim and doubt of the "truthfulness" of the accusation also were the most common reasons why kits are not sent, according to the survey.

Kits are provided by the state Division of Criminal Investigation, which also processes the kits at its crime lab in Ankeny.

The lab tests DNA from saliva, blood and semen as well as from sweat and skin. The sample then is uploaded to the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, to find a match to a suspect whose DNA sample already is registered in the national database. In Iowa, anyone convicted of a felony or a sex crime must submit a DNA specimen to that database.

The law enforcement agency that sent the kit can use a match in CODIS as evidence against a suspect.

Tabor said the state has contracted with Bode Cellmark Forensics, a private lab in North Carolina, to help test the kits and take some of the added caseload off the state crime lab. 

He said the kits that have gotten priority for testing are those in which the statute of limitations “may be in play.”

Scott County Sheriff Tim Lane said he was happy to hear that a second lab would be testing kits.

“Imagine you’re a victim and information that is needed to make an arrest is eight or nine months out,” he said. “It’s just ridiculous.”

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