Utah to hire private lab to process rape kits

By The Associated Press | Posted - Jun. 19, 2014 at 12:21 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah is planning to set up new private laboratories to speed a backlog in evidence related to rape.

Lawmakers this year set aside $750,000 toward the effort. They say the state crime laboratory has had too few resources for years, and it's held up about 2,000 samples from undergoing analysis.

On Wednesday, a working group told a legislative committee that all rape kits should be processed so the DNA may be added to a national database.

"This can bring more perpetrators to justice," said Donna Kelly of the Utah Prosecution Council.

When medical workers treat people for sexual assault, they collect DNA and other evidence, then lock it in a rape or "Code R" kit.

Rape kits remain unanalyzed in police storage in Utah, putting off prosecutions indefinitely and denying justice for victims, analysts said. Others contend processing each kit could pose problems in instances when no charges are filed.

"Here is a guy who's never been convicted of a crime," Salt Lake City Detective Cody Lougy said, "and we're putting him in a database."

Lougy said the $750,000 appropriation seems hefty, but it would cover the cost of only about 600 rape kits.

In Salt Lake City, about 790 kits have yet to be processed, according to the city police department.

The Salt Lake City Council earlier this year asked Police Chief Chris Burbank to explain why the department shelved or destroyed about four out of five rape kits between 2003 and 2011.

The department spares no resources when seeking rapists, but processing isn't necessary when a perpetrator has already been identified, Burbank said.

The state crime lab lagged in processing the kits, he said, which each cost $1,100 to analyze.

Faster processing of the evidence in Detroit, New Orleans, Texas and Ohio raised the number of rape prosecutions and could help police better find serial rapists, Kelly said.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, questioned whether each case should go to the lab. In some cases, police said, they deemed the processing unnecessary because the perpetrator was identified.

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon disagreed. "These victims have endured a terrible sexual assault, and then had to submit themselves to an incredibly invasive process and exam," Corroon said in a news release.

Lab director Jay Henry says the state will soon ask for proposals and select a firm by year's end.

The Utah Department of Public Safety currently oversees the lab, The Salt Lake Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1uGayRj).

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com

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The Associated Press

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