By Katie Fretland
Source: Commercial Appeal
April 17, 2017
More women are joining legal proceedings against the city over the accumulation of thousands of untested rape kits disclosed three years ago. Meanwhile a campaign is looking for “lost survivors” of Memphis rapes — people whose kits are in the testing process but investigators can’t locate them.
Attorney Daniel Lofton said 40 plaintiffs are involved in a lawsuit that alleges authorities mishandled and failed to prioritize the testing of rape kits. In 2013, Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong disclosed that more than 12,000 kits needed to be tested. The lawsuit awaits class-action certification.
Since 2013, the number of untested kits has been reduced. A March report by the city’s Sexual Assault Kit Task Force, which oversees the testing, shows 62 percent of the kits had completed analysis.
In 49 cases, authorities have been unable to locate the victims, prompting efforts to reach “lost survivors” by Memphis Says No More, a campaign against sexual assault and domestic violence.
“We urge anyone who was assaulted and who completed a forensic kit and who wants to know the status of her or his case to call MPD at 901-636-3438,” said campaign coordinator Deborah Clubb. “We hope anyone who knows someone who was attacked and might help connect her to investigators to call that number as well.”
Of the total accumulation of 12,375 kits, 4,642 or 38 percent have been processed for DNA. Another 3,065 kits or 25 percent were negative in serology tests for fluids, meaning there was not enough material such as blood, semen or saliva to go further in lab analysis, Clubb said. Those two numbers constitute the 62 percent that have completed testing.
The report shows the number of kits in several stages of testing, and the total that remained untested for serology or DNA was down to 625 cases or 5 percent.
“It’s not done when those 600 plus go to the lab,” Clubb said. “It really just begins years of hard work to complete investigations and get in front of juries and judges who will punish these really bad people and show women here in particular that what we’ve gone through has been tended to, has been cared for. This is over 12,000 people, mostly women, also some children and some men, who were brutalized.”
The report also notes that the Sexual Assault Kit Task Force submitted three nominations for a competition — the DNA Database Hit of he Year — which is announced in May in Austria. One of the cases made it onto a list of finalists.
Regarding the competition, Meaghan Ybos, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who was raped by a serial rapist in 2003, said the city “needs to stop celebrating this.”
“It’s really offensive to victims that the city is celebrating its own failure and competing for awards, using the most reprehensible cases that they ignored to try to win awards now,” Ybos said.
Referencing the campaign to find lost survivors, Ybos said it is hard to find victims of rape who have been ignored for 10 or 20 years.
The task force report also includes results of investigations, including convictions of rapists that followed the testing of kits.
In one case, Jacquet Moore was sentenced this year to 60 years in prison after he raped a 32-year-old woman in January 20000 in the area of Brooks Road near Elvis Presley. Moore was charged in four cases. He was convicted in one case, acquitted in another, and the others are pending.
A now-paralyzed man pleaded guilty this year to a 2002 rape after a match was made in a rape kit more than a decade after the crime. During the time between the rape and the match on the rape kit in 2014, 49-year-old Albert Evans was paralyzed from injuries in a vehicular accident.
Another man, Vincent Williams, 40, pleaded guilty this year to raping a woman in 1999. He was indicted as a John Doe in 2014.
Authorities have requested 220 indictments, including 139 against named suspects. The rest are against John Doe suspects using their DNA profiles.
Of the 139 named suspects, 45 have multiple cases.
Some 217 people had been previously convicted of the crime from the rape kit and 306 cases were past the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations varies per degree of felony.
Indicting the DNA profile on a John Doe suspect helps stop the clock on the statute of limitations.
“That was a really unique approach that our special victims prosecutors came up with, because it was of great concern to them that we do everything we can to fight for these victims and to bring these offenders to justice,” said Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich.
The special victim’s unit, which handles rape, child abuse and elder abuse cases, is comprised of seven prosecutors, a cold case investigator and a victim witness coordinator, An additional victim witness coordinator is about to be added, Weirich said.
Prosecutions stemming from the testing of the kits has resulted in 26 guilty verdicts or pleas, according to the DA’s office.