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An untested rape kit plagued Memphis long before the Jogger incident. WGN Radio 720

MEMPHIS, Tennessee (AP) — Problems with rape kit evidence testing continue to plague Memphis.

The city, long plagued by a large backlog of untested sexual assault kits, was rocked by the arrest of Cleosa Henderson, who was murdered after Eliza Fletcher was kidnapped during her morning jog last month. .

When authorities announced that his DNA was linked to a rape that occurred nearly a year ago (when they charged him separately days after his arrest in the Fletcher murder), the outraged city Turned into an obvious question.

The case of Henderson, who has already served 20 years in prison for a kidnapping he committed when he was 16, has rekindled criticism of Tennessee’s sexual assault testing process. This included a request for a shorter delay from the testing agency, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and questions about why Memphis did not seek to quickly track down kits that may have been tested in days. increase.

Instead, it took nearly a year to discover key evidence that was too late to indict Henderson before Fletcher’s murder.

This tragic outcome brings Memphis back to the early 2010s. At this time, Memphis uncovered a backlog of nearly 12,000 untested rape kits that he had cut down over the years, leading to an ongoing lawsuit. A new rape allegation has sparked another lawsuit alleging the Memphis Police Department’s negligence in delays.

This scenario has also sparked widespread concern that Tennessee has been in the national spotlight for decades, battling issues that some states are dealing with.

In response, Republican Gov. Bill Lee and Republican legislative leaders quickly raised funding for 25 additional TBI lab positions, including six for DNA processing. but Lee only funded 25 in the proposed budget, and lawmakers approved that amount.

Rape victim Megan Ivos involved in backlog lawsuit, despite receiving over $20 million in grants to address backlog, known issues for years accusing the city of failing to curb the

“I don’t think the shortcomings of Memphis law enforcement are limited to handling rape kits,” Ivos said. Money received by cities and counties for things like testing rape kits, training police, hiring victim advocates, and prosecuting cold rape cases.

As of August, three state laboratories in Tennessee took an average of 28 to 49 weeks to process rape kits in the absence of expedited testing orders. Over 950 rape kits were not lab tested.

TBI attributes the delays to staffing issues and low wages, complicating the recruitment and retention of scientists.

TBI director David Rausch has planned further moves, hoping to process all the evidence in eight to 12 weeks within the next year. Use retired TBI workers for overtime, weekend hours, more outsourcing to private labs, and training new workers to free up current employees.

According to the Joyful Heart Foundation, Tennessee does not require a specific delivery date for newly collected rape kits, but 19 other states do. Massachusetts requires kits to be processed within 30 days, while most states require him to test within 60, 90, or 120 days.

The Speakers of the Tennessee House and Senate have not flagged a rebuilding order as a priority. Meanwhile, TBI said the turnaround requirement requires adequate funding.

Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation, said the Tennessee problem is not unique. Rape Awaiting Analysis Since there is no official U.S. number of kits, Knecht estimates that she likely has over 200,000 untested kits in law enforcement or hospital vaults nationwide. increase.

“All of these kits on the shelf could represent someone like the criminal in this case. They’ve been doing it for decades, and there’s evidence on the shelf somewhere that can stop them,” Knechte told the Associated Press.

Henderson has been charged with first-degree murder for kidnapping and killing Fletcher, a kindergarten teacher and mother of two, while she was running before dawn on the campus of the University of Memphis on September 2. rice field. Her body was found behind an abandoned house in Memphis on September 5th.

Henderson, also named Cleosa Abston, was remanded on September 9 for raping a Memphis woman in September 2021, although she was not on the murder petition. Henderson has pleaded not guilty to charges of that attack, including aggravated rape.

A new lawsuit filed by a woman who claims she was raped in that attack says Memphis police could have prevented Fletcher’s death had they investigated the 2021 rape more vigorously. ing.

“Creosa Abston should have been arrested and charged with a more serious rape months ago, possibly in 2021, and should have been charged,” the lawsuit said. The AP has not released the woman’s name.

Rape kits contain semen, saliva, or blood samples taken from the victim. Specimens containing DNA evidence are uploaded to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) to confirm matches.

Backlog has long been a problem in Memphis. In 2013, about 12,000 untested rape kits were released there. A task force was formed and the police used the results to launch an investigation and convict.

The city said the backlog of orders it uncovered in 2013 has been closed. But Tennessee has been significantly behind in testing rape kits, including the Memphis case.

In the Henderson case, Memphis police said the sexual assault report was made on September 21, 2021. The rape kit was submitted to TBI two days later, according to the agency.

According to police, “an official CODIS hit was not received until after Fletcher’s abduction, and the probable cause of arrest did not exist until a CODIS hit was received.”

TBI said it had not requested an expedited analysis and said the submission contained no questionable information.

The kit was eventually removed from the evidence vault and the first report was completed on Aug. 29, the agency said.

The 2021 DNA matched Henderson’s in a national database on Sept. 5, three days after Fletcher’s abduction, officials said. TBI reported the match to the Memphis Police Department.

Under Tennessee law, law enforcement agencies generally have 30 days to send evidence of a rape kit to TBI or another lab, but there is no obligation regarding processing time.

TBI said its budget request is conservative. To 40 scientists and his 10 subordinate positions he is $10.2 million. West Virginia University’s forensic calculator said the TBI lab needed 71 more positions, the agency noted.

In DNA testing, the lab currently has six supervisory and 26 special agent/forensic officer positions, some of whom are engaged in hiring or long-term recruit training. We hope to have 1 scientist (14 from DNA) by the end of this month and the others by the end of March.

Still, many are frustrated by situations they say are urgent.

“These are our most vulnerable victims,” ​​said Josh Pickler, executive director of JustCity, a Memphis organization calling for a fairer criminal justice system. It’s really unacceptable that it’s become the norm for rape kits to take months to test.”


Mattise reports from Nashville, Tennessee.

https://wgnradio.com/news/national/ap-untested-rape-kits-plagued-memphis-long-before-jogger-case/ An untested rape kit plagued Memphis long before the Jogger incident. WGN Radio 720

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