Springfield among Ohio cities with backlog of rape kits now tested

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The Springfield News-Sun digs into important public safety issues in Clark and Champaign counties, including recent stories on crashes at red light camera intersections and a spike in violent crime in Springfield.

When Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine called on law enforcement throughout the state to submit untested rape kits in 2011, more than 280 jurisdictions — including Springfield — sent more than 13,500 samples.

The state has since tested 10,000 of the submitted kits, which include DNA evidence collected from the victim’s body and clothing by a qualified nurse within 96 hours of a sexual assault.

“We’ve had over 400 indictments as a result of this. We’ve had well over 100 convictions … and we’ve really just gotten started as far as the prosecution is concerned,” DeWine said. “We’re about done testing them but the work has to continue with the local county prosecuting attorney and of course the local police who have to investigate the case and bring it to court.”

The Springfield Police Division had one of the largest backlogs from Southwest Ohio, sending 367 untested rape kits to the state. Of those, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation has tested 150, resulting in 43 hits in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), according to data provided by DeWine’s office.

Those hits could link crimes to offenders or identify the pattern of a serial rapists, but so far, none have led to local arrests, Springfield Police Capt. Mike Hill said.

The samples submitted from Springfield dated back to 1986.

“The reasons are many that some were never sent out for DNA testing. One of the big reasons for the much older cases is that DNA testing has advanced tremendously in the past 30 years,” he said. “With some trace evidence, what may be tested now could not have been tested then because the capabilities just were not there.”

Some cities backlogs were are much larger.

Cleveland submitted more than 4,300 untested DNA samples. Toledo sent in more than 1,700 and Akron 1,400.

Senate Bill 316, which went into effect in March 2015, required law enforcement to submit any remaining older kits to a crime laboratory within one year. More than 4,200 samples were submitted by that deadline.

The law also requires all rape kits from new crimes going forward be submitted for testing within 30 days. They can be submitted to any crime lab but many charge fees while the BCI lab is free.

Both Springfield Police and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office said they are currently up to date with no untested sexual assault evidence. Both jurisdictions will continue to send new rape kits to BCI for testing.

BCI has hired 10 additional forensic scientists to ensure that DNA testing related to recent crimes isn’t delayed as older samples continue to be tested, spokeswoman Jill Del Greco said. The annual costs for those positions is about $720,000.

“These two categories of evidence are routed differently by BCI so that evidence associated with crimes that just occurred will be tested right away and results will be returned to local law enforcement less than one month after evidence is submitted,” she said.

That’s down from a turnaround time of about 125 days previously. Older kits are generally tested based on offense date, regardless of when the kit was submitted, Del Greco said.

When the testing is done, the results are sent back to the local jurisdiction.

“In most cases we go back to the police department and say, ‘This is who your guy is, here’s his name, here’s his last known address,’” DeWine said. “In some cases we go back and say, ‘We don’t know who it is but this unknown has matched up with five other unknowns and you need to call these other police departments because you all have the same rapist.’”

DeWine said it saddens him to think that if some of this evidence had been processed sooner, rapes by repeat offenders could have been prevented.

“It was important for protection of the public to get these serial rapists off the streets,” he said.

“Imagine if you were a rape victim and you’ve been violated and you’re taken to a hospital and they tell you at the hospital if you agree to allow us to use your clothes and get evidence from your body … that we may have a good chance of finding this person. And so you do agree, and then five years later or 10 years later you find out no one ever tested … So we owed that to these victims to find out, if we can, who the rapist is,” DeWine said.

The matches that have come back to Springfield haven’t led to any arrests for various reasons, Hill said.

In some cases the DNA hit involved a sexual partner of the victim who isn’t the rape suspect. Some confirmed a known suspect, but the victim has since decided not to pursue charges, he said.

Clark County Sheriff’s Office didn’t submit any older kits for testing because it didn’t have any backlogged, Sheriff Gene Kelly. Deputies did recently make an arrest in a 2015 sexual assault with the help of DNA evidence.

Samuel P. Conkel, 24, of Beavercreek is awaiting trial on charges of sexual battery and gross sexual imposition. Investigators accused him of sexually assaulting a sedated woman he was transporting in a medic unit.

“This is one of the most unconscionable sexual assaults that we’ve ever investigated,” Kelly said. “But for the fact that we have DNA evidence, this crime would not have been solved.”