It’s often said that justice delayed is justice denied. This is especially true for victims in sexual assault cases that were never prosecuted or even fully investigated.
Numerous reports from across the country indicate that many thousands of unprocessed rape kits, used to collect and store DNA evidence in sexual assault cases, have been sitting for years and sometimes decades. They have lingered for a variety of reasons.
That used to be true in our state, as well. But in 2011, the Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Kit Commission recommended that all old evidence collection kits be tested, and law enforcement agencies were encouraged to send their unprocessed kits to the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation to be analyzed at no charge.
The results have been stunning.
As of July 1, 8,001 kits had been submitted, and 4,108 have been tested so far. This has resulted in 1,474 matches with records in the national DNA database, or a hit in 35 percent of kits tested.
By far, the largest number of evidence kits have come from the Cleveland Police Department, almost 4,000. Our offices formed a DNA Cold Case Task Force with the Cleveland police and the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office to investigate and prosecute cases as this evidence is tested.
So far, more than 135 people have been indicted, including 37 John Does. While the identities of these men are not known, they were indicted to ensure that Ohio’s 20-year statute of limitations for rape does not expire before they can be brought to justice. A third of the defendants indicted have been linked to more than one rape. Rapists often have high rates of recidivism, and the rap sheets of many perpetrators list other crimes.
Take, for example, Elias Acevedo Sr., who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in December for multiple rapes and two murders committed in the 1990s. The investigation into Acevedo’s involvement in those homicides was spurred, in part, by the discovery of his DNA in a 1993 rape kit submitted for testing by the Cleveland police. Acevedo led us to the body of one murder victim that he had hidden in a sewer vault, where the body remained for almost 19 years.
As a result of the DNA initiative, serial rapist Delbert Buckwald was convicted last year of raping two women who suffered from mental illnesses and a 12-year-old girl he accosted while she was walking to school. The rapes occurred between July 1993 and February 1994. After he completes his current rape sentence in 2017, Buckwald will face a minimum of 30 years of additional prison time.
Such efforts certainly are about protecting the public. By stopping active career criminals, we can prevent new victims. But we also owe justice to the forgotten victims – justice that has been delayed too long.
We urge every state to undertake similar efforts; many states still have not faced up to their own backlogs of untested rape evidence. In addition, Congress should continue to help states and local governments with the critically important work of DNA testing. By doing so, we can save lives and make our communities safer.