Rape kit testing yields results in old cases

All backlogged rape kits will be analyzed by early 2018

A backlog of untested rape kits in the Portland Police Bureau (KOIN, file)
A backlog of untested rape kits in the Portland Police Bureau (KOIN, file)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In April 2016, Multnomah, Lane and Marion counties began submitting a backlog of untested rape kits to a forensic laboratory for testing. Now, 15 months later, almost all of the kits have been submitted and a number of positive identifications have been made.

Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Amity Girt told KOIN 6 News about 1660 of the 2800 kits have been analyzed by Sorenson Forensics, a private laboratory in Salt Lake City. Prosecutors expect all of the rape kits will be analyzed by the beginning of 2018.

The kits were sent in batches and testing takes months. After the kits are tested for DNA, authorities will be notified and, if needed, more investigation will take place.

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“With this project we’re working on we’ve had over 100 hits across all 3 counties to the CODIS data base, and those fall into different categories,” Susan Hormann, a forensic consultant for the Multnomah County DA’s office, said.

Those 3 categories: DNA results that are comparable, unclear or no match. Then the Oregon State Police crime lab reviews the comparable profiles, and more investigation takes place, if necessary.

Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Amity Girt, July 27, 2017 (KOIN)
Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Amity Girt, July 27, 2017 (KOIN)

The state police crime lab checks the test results against “a DNA database that stores both like-known offender samples and also evidentiary samples,” Girt said. For a profile to got into the comparable category “it has to meet certain quality points of comparison.”

“In some of the situations we’ve gotten CODIS hits to cases where the statute of limitations has already run out. In some of the situations we’ve got cases where they’ve already been prosecuted.”

Girt said the effort has been a success in testing and reviewing the rape kits. But there are challenges they face with each individual case.

“For these types of cases many of them are heavily dependent on the victim or the survivor being able to tell the story of what happened to them as they know it,” she said. “So we really need a survivors participation in the criminal case to make it go forward and I think that’s the biggest consideration for folks thinking by and large whether or not they actually want to see this case through.”

“I feel as though the message I’ve been able to get back from them is that it’s empowering to be able to see this case through” — Multnomah County Deputy DA Amity Girt

Recently there have been 3 indictments in Multnomah County over cases from 2006, 2010 and 2011. Two of those suspects have been named — Steven Guy Tubbs, 61, and Curtis Clint Williams, now 63. The third case remains sealed.

And in Lane County, Jeffrey Van Arkel was sentenced earlier this year for raping a teenage girl in 2005 after a match from a rape test kit.

In the first year of the project, Girt said there were about 45 comparable hits from the rape kit tests, and “20% of those hits being on cases we already prosecuted.”

Girt said she believes more people would have been indicted if more victims had wanted to come forward.

Sometimes, she said, it’s hard to find people.

“Some of these cases are 10, 15, 20 years old and even in this day and age, when it seems like you should be able to track down just about anybody, I think it’s still difficult to find the best way to contact some of the folks in the cases we’ve been reviewing.”

The DA’s office makes sure the case gets the due attention it deserves, she said, and wants victims to know that if they come forward “their case is going to get the right amount of attention.”

When victims have decided to go forward with their case, she said, “I feel as though the message I’ve been able to get back from them is that it’s empowering to be able to see this case through, even if it’s been 5, 10 years later.”

A backlog of untested rape kits in the Portland Police Bureau (KOIN, file)
A backlog of untested rape kits in the Portland Police Bureau (KOIN, file)