61 cases under investigation as rape kit test results return

Total of 1,400 untested rape kits sent to FDLE from Northeast Florida area

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The State Attorney's Office and the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office are getting results from rape kits that were left untested for years.

About a year and a half ago, there was a big push to test DNA evidence that had stacked up for decades. More than 1,400 untested rape kits were sent to the lab from the Northeast Florida area. 

The results are being put into a national database -- Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS -- to see if a suspect can be identified by tracing DNA, and it's working.

The backlog of DNA testing of rape kits is now showing positive results, with a number of cases having just been opened. 

From October 2015 to June 2017, the state lab in Tallahassee had 8,600 rape kits that need to be tested. At last check, testing of 3,663 kits had been completed, 843 of which had a positive hit -- meaning DNA was match to a known suspect that was also in the national database.

That doesn't mean there are 843 cases, just that agencies will now look and see if the victims want to purse the case if other evidence is still available. Even if the suspect is still alive, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement does not keep track of those investigations and relies on the local agencies to follow through. 

A total of 1,470 kits from the Jacksonville area -- Duval and Nassau counties -- were sent to FDLE. As of June 30, there had been hits or matches for 273 cases, 61 of which are now under active investigation.

That means many rape victims in Northeast Florida who had no hope of police finding their attacker may soon be learning there could be a suspect in their case.

Adair Newman and Corelynn Crawford, of the State Attorney's Office, told the News4Jax I-TEAM on Tuesday that they're notifying victims and are now actively investigating the cases along with the Sheriff's Office.

"Currently, out of the 61 cases, we have not made any arrests," Crawford said. "We are hopefully getting close to that point. But there is a lot of work that goes into them."

The work in the lab kicked into high gear last year with a federal grant to get rid of the backlog. Some of the DNA samples date back to the 1980s. 

Right now, investigators can't talk about individual cases. But of the 273 cases that came back with a positive hit, someone identified in the national system of DNA, 92 have been closed for various reasons -- either the statute of limitations has run out, witnesses can't be located or the case had already been solved.

But when a match is made, the victim is contacted, and that could change the victim's life again. News4Jax asked about victims' responses because what they do next is important to the case. 

"Shocked. Interested. Not interested. Every victim, it's different," Crawford said. 

More numbers are coming in every day as the kits are processed, but all of the kits have been sent.

The State Attorney’s Office has a hotline for victims to call if they think one of the untested rape kits is theirs. The number is 904-255-3076.

The I-TEAM on Wednesday continued asking question about untested kits in St. Johns and Flagler Counties, and will update this story when those numbers of received. 

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.