Untested Rape Kits, Unidentified Rapists

Don Hooper
Don Hooper

Last Saturday, the Houston Chronicle published an article claiming that half of the untested sexual assault kits at the Houston Police Department have now been tested. While the article provides hope that previously unidentified rapists are now identified through DNA testing, the facts of the situation are much more startling. I have written about this subject before; but, I really think that it is important to discuss this issue.

Along with Clyde Bryan, I have gone to Houston City Council on this issue for years. My last visit was to criticize the Mayor for using out of state laboratories to conduct the testing. I was told that the out of state labs were cheaper. I was trying to point out the true cost of using out of state labs was not addressed. See, both labs use the batch processing system; so, several witnesses would need to be flown in for all hearings and trials.

Annise Parker was a member of the Crime Lab Stakeholders Committee. This committee recommended that Michael Bromwich investigate the city lab’s forensic problems. Unfortunately, little if any of his recommendations were ever followed – you can read them here. Years after Bromwich concluded his report, rape kits continued to sit untested at the Houston Police Department. There is only one word to describe why Annise finally acted – reelection.

The bottom line is that every individual who submits to a sexual assault examination deserves to have the evidence tested. But, it isn’t that simple. Every victim deserves to have the evidence tested by the best possible laboratory with the most innovative technology. Moreover, every victim deserves to have the evidence handled to the level that makes it admissible in court. And, finally, every victim deserves to have the laws followed by the prosecutor, which will provide for a conviction and make certain that it is upheld.

It is disgusting that, for years, sexual assault kits were stacking up at the Houston Police Department and around the country. Rapists have remained free and innocent men have been convicted. Thankfully, good prosecutors are getting justice for our community.

I am gravely concerned that the mayor has unilaterally decided to send the untested sexual assault kits out of Texas. These kits are the result of horrible injustices that occurred to actual people – men, women, and children. The majority of the victims are Houstonians. Sending these kits outside of Houston and Texas harms the victims, defendants, and criminal cases. The city’s decision makes it difficult for the prosecutors and defense attorneys to speak with the technicians.

Also, are these out-of-state laboratories complying with the new Michael Morton Act? Look at SB 1611’s text:

…as soon as practicable after receiving a timely request from the defendant the state shall produce and permit the inspection and the electronic duplication, copying, and photographing, by or on behalf of the defendant, of any offense reports, and designated documents, papers, written or recorded statements of the defendant or a witness, including witness statements of law enforcement officers but not including the work product of counsel…

And, if you think that an innocent person cannot be convicted of an offense they did not commit, I encourage you to watch An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story.

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