Mike DeWine: Rape-kit testing nets suspects, gets results

A suspect already in federal prison was linked to open rape cases from 2007 and 2009 and became the 500th defendant in Cuyahoga County indicted as a direct result of my office’s Sexual Assault Kit Testing (SAK) Initiative.

Basim Barnes was accused of threatening his victims with a gun, forcing one woman into an alley and dragging another into an abandoned house. Like many of the other suspects our initiative identified, he probably believed that as more time passed, the less likely he was to get caught.

Now, thanks to the investigative efforts of local law enforcement, coupled with the DNA testing performed as part of our initiative, suspects are finally having to answer for the terror and pain they inflicted on their victims of many years ago.

We launched the SAK Testing Initiative in 2011 to bring justice to sexual assault victims whose forensic evidence was waiting to be analyzed in thousands of untested rape kits. I believed this evidence could help lead law enforcement to serial rapists and halt future attacks.

We asked law enforcement agencies throughout the state to voluntarily send their old rape kits to our Bureau of Criminal Investigation for DNA testing at no cost to them. Even if the DNA profiles didn’t yield an immediate match, they had value because they would be added to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). By becoming part of this nationwide DNA database, they could provide critical evidence in a future criminal case.

So far we’ve received nearly 13,900 untested kits from 294 agencies statewide, and they’re still coming in. Through the hard work and dedication of BCI’s forensic scientists, we’ve tested most of them and are steadily working through the rest.

Our testing has led to more than 4,000 “hits” in CODIS, connecting crimes to offenders, identifying serial rapists, and providing law enforcement with critical evidence to help solve still-pending cases.

But science alone can’t draw conclusions from evidence or put 500 defendants on the path toward indictment. It was focus, perseverance, and meticulous investigative skills – in other words, fundamentally solid police work – that recently led to identifying an alleged serial rapist who is accused of attacking seven women between 1993 and 2003.

Jonas Rhodes is accused of targeting women who were out walking and, in many cases, threatening their lives with a gun or a knife. The DNA testing confirmed a common thread among the cases, but the identity of the DNA’s donor remained elusive – until one of our BCI special agents tackled the challenge. She pored over the case files, conducted follow-up interviews, and ultimately identified the suspect, who’s now in custody.

Our SAK Testing Initiative generates cost savings, as well. Based in part on costs associated with crimes prevented, a Case Western Reserve University study pegged the projected savings to Cuyahoga County from the testing and investigating of that community’s rape kits at $38.7 million.

The 500 defendants indicted in Cuyahoga County as a result of our SAK Testing Initiative represent more than a remarkable statistic. It means at least a measure of justice for many sexual assault victims whose cases were caught up in delays. It means criminals will finally face consequences. And it means we’re protecting Ohio families by preventing the potential attacks of repeat offenders.

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Mike DeWine is Attorney General of the state of Ohio.

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