HONOLULU — An effort by law enforcement to test more than 1,500 backlogged rape kits has resulted in DNA matches with more than 120 potential suspects in a national offender database.
In 19 cases, the victim’s DNA matched that taken from another crime scene, potentially linking yet unknown assailants to multiple crimes.
It’s not clear how many of the cases were unsolved at the time the kits were tested. But the “hits,” as they are referred to by crime experts, can identify unknown perpetrators, confirm the identity of known offenders, connect rapists to previously unsolved crimes and exonerate innocent suspects.
So far, there haven’t been any arrests or charges brought in the cases in Hawaii. But law enforcement officials say they are hopeful that some will lead to convictions.
“The testing will always just be a cost or just a sheet of paper in a file if you are not doing something with the information,” said Rachel Lovell, a senior research associate at Case Western Reserve University who is assisting the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office in Ohio with its federal grant for testing sexual assault kits.
“There has to be a willingness and resources put toward the follow-up,” Lovell said. “You have to see it as a long-term thing. I think a lot of jurisdictions are like, ‘Our problem is we didn’t test, so we will test.’ But that is one symptom of a much larger issue, which is how the criminal justice system has responded to sexual assaults.”
Hawaii’s statute of limitations for felony sexual assault also limits investigations. Until July 2014, it was six years for felony sexual assault involving an adult victim — much shorter than most other states. The DNA evidence, if it was tested before the statute of limitations expired, could extend that period by a decade.