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Special prosecutors to tackle untested rape kits in 3 new counties

rape kit
After Wayne County found some 11,000 abandoned rape kits, a statewide survey found another 1,800 around the state.

After Wayne County found some 11,000 abandoned rape kits in police storage, Michigan’s Attorney General asked every other county to report how many untested rape kits they had in their property.  

More than 1,800 additional kits were reported, including 327 in Calhoun County.

“Some people criticize the police agencies [in Calhoun County] and say, ‘Well, why do you have so many rape kits?’” says prosecutor David Gilbert. “The reason they have them is, well, because they saved them. I mean other departments probably did not save their rape kits, because the statute of limitations ran [out]. Some counties don’t have any rape kits, and I find it very hard to believe that there are counties in our state that never had a rape.”

Now a Special Assistant Attorney General is being appointed in Calhoun, Genesee, and Kalamazoo counties to oversee new investigations and prosecutions.

“Some of these kits go back to the 80’s and 90’s and maybe even before,” says Calhoun County Prosecutor David Gilbert. DNA testing was so limited back then, he says, that police guidelines said “if the defendant confessed, you didn’t test the rape kit. If the victim did not want to pursue, you did not test the rape kit. And if you didn’t have a suspect, you didn’t test the kit, because you had nothing to compare the sample to.”  

Meanwhile, Gilbert says they’ve already begun testing those 327 kits, and already 47 potential suspects have turned up from the criminal DNA databases.

One man was recently arrested for failure to pay child support, Gilbert says, and “his DNA hit on a rape that occurred in Calhoun County back in the early 90’s. And we extradited him to prosecute him, but unfortunately the statute of limitations [on that rape] had run by then.”

As more DNA hits come in from these old rape kits, “we have to go find our victims,” Gilbert says. “The people who were raped or molested as children, and now we need to determine whether or not they want to proceed.”

Still, this will likely happen slowly. Gilbert says there’s currently a four to six month wait list for DNA testing, even for a rape kit that comes in today. That’s partly because of budget cuts, he says, though the state police are hiring more staff for DNA testing. Calhoun County is sending their rape kits all the way to Utah for testing.

Even if an untested rape kit is already past the statute of limitations for a prosecution, Gilbert says testing it can still help track down criminals.

“We have DNA now, and we can identify people, and we might even identify them for other offenses. People forget that, you know, people that rape and molest kids aren’t nice people. They typically do it again. They have something wrong with them… and typically if you rape one person, you’ll rape another one. And I think that’s what they’re finding in Wayne County: they’re identifying serial rapists.” 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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