RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — 8News is finally getting a look at how big of problem untested rape kits are around the Commonwealth.
Two years ago, 8News investigator Kerri O’Brien was the first to expose hundreds of untested kits sitting in evidence rooms here in Central Virginia. Kerri’s story led to action and tonight — new information.
When we first looked into this, the Henrico County Police Department couldn’t tell us how many kits they had in storage. They didn’t keep track of it.
Since our story aired, Governor Terry McAuliffe signed a law ordering that law enforcement across the Commonwealth count those kits. However, 8News has uncovered that more than 2300 rape kits, that could help catch a criminal, are sitting in storage areas across the Commonwealth.
The numbers are devastating to rape survivor Debbie Smith.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, 8News has learned that despite the Governor’s order to get a count of those kits by February 1, 162 law enforcement agencies have yet to submit an inventory to the Virginia Department of Forensic Science.
“It breaks my heart, when I think about somebody going through that examination and then it just sits on a shelf,” Smith, a victim herself, said. “And then for somebody to say, ‘I didn’t know these there were… That’s not an excuse not any more.'”
Smith was raped 25 years ago, but says she’ll never forget that brutal attack when she was pulled from her Williamsburg home while her husband, an officer, was upstairs asleep.
“This masked man came in, took me from my home to the woods behind my home where he robbed and repeatedly raped me.”
After the attack, Smith said she desperately wanted to wash the man off of her, but her officer husband knew she couldn’t.
“I headed for she shower and he stopped and he said, ‘I can’t let you do that.'”
Terrified and in shock, Smith went to hospital where evidence was collected through a rape kit.
“Pictures are being taken, you’re being swabbed, you’re being plucked, you’re being combed.”
It’s an intrusive process for any victim that can take 4 hours to complete.
“It is grueling, it is embarrassing and it can be demoralizing.”
As painful as it was, it paid off. It took 6 and half years — but that evidence gathered that day put her attacker behind bars. Norman Jimmerson is currently serving two life sentences with no chance of parole.
“The only thing that had the evidence we needed was in that kit.”
For other survivors here in Virginia, their attacker may still be out there as their untested kits sit in the back of an evidence room. Among the thousand of untested kits in the state, Chesterfield Police have 185 in storage.
Richmond Police are still counting, but in December they reported having 125 kits.
The Henrico Police Department’s final count comes down to 102 kits. Henrico Police tell us in a statement that 63 have now been sent to the state lab for testing, but 39 will remain in storage.
“After conducting an inventory of PERKs we came to know 102 had been submitted into Evidence inventory. Of those, 63 were submitted to DFS for testing and 39 have remained here in Evidence. Those 39 not submitted for testing were for various reasons to include; victim being untruthful, prosecution declined, report unfounded due to lack of evidence, victim became uncooperative, etc. This information will be submitted on the DFS for reporting in compliance with SB658. Additionally, we were asked to capture CY 2013 specific PERKs of which 10 were submitted to DFS for testing an 8 were not. These figures are inclusive in the report going to DFS,” Henrico Police said.
All of the departments tell us there are reasons for not testing kits.
When 8News first began probing into the backlog, Chesterfield Police told us sometimes the Commonwealth Attorney thinks it’s a case they can’t win or sometimes there’s holes in the victim’s story.
Click HERE to see the full set of data from Chesterfield Police: Chesterfield Rape Kit Data
“There are others times where the victim may choose not to cooperate with prosecution on that matter.”
Still, Debbie Smith says that “this is someone’s life, this not just a box.”
“When we take that kit and we sit it on that shelf, we’re raping them all over again,” she said.
It’s still upsetting to Smith, who in 2004 had the Debbie Smith Act passed, which provides federal funding for the DNA testing of rape kits.
“Testing these kits its not just important to the victim. It is important to our community because it prevents crime.”
The state Department of Forensic Science continues to hound law enforcement to submit their rape kit inventory.
A complete report is expected this summer. We’ll will stay on it for you.
Stay with 8News for the latest updates to this developing story.