In 2009, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office discovered 11,341 untested kits. They were sitting in boxes in a police storage warehouse, piled as high as the eye could see, gathering dust. No one remembered they were there. Nothing was being done about them. It was a terrible discovery, but it instigated a statewide drive for change. Law enforcement all over Michigan started hunting through their evidence lockers, looking to see what untested rape kits might have fallen through the cracks. The discoveries were staggering.
In 2013, legislators earmarked $4,000,000 to address the backlog of rape kit evidence. The following year, they added another $3,000,000 to the budget. People were trained, dusty boxes were pulled out storage and unpacked, some for the first time in decades. Teams sprang up in cities all over Michigan. Their sole purpose was to test as many of the kits as possible, and allow as many rape victims as possible to find justice. But you can imagine, testing a load of old rape kits means discovering a lot of potential rapists who’ve never been charged for their alleged crimes.
So how are these cold cases being handled in Michigan?
Each county is dealing with their own backlog, though some cities have far more than others. Wayne, Genesee, Calhoun and Kent Counties are swamped, while Lansing and Bay City had fewer. The standard procedure, it seems, is to test each kit and determine if the results yield a match. Many counties then reach out to the victims, asking them if they would like to proceed. If the answer is yes, an investigation is opened and evidence is gathered on the suspect. But as you can imagine, progress is slow.
Gathering evidence about a crime that took place 5, 10, or even 30 years ago is difficult. People have moved on, their memories are less certain, and there is no protected crime scene that has been held in stasis, waiting for an officer to show up and gather evidence. However, despite the challenges, hundreds of potential rapists are being charged. In some cases, possible serial rapists here in Michigan are being identified for the first time.
How many rape charges are being filed from old rape kits?
That is a hard question to answer. The answer changes regularly as investigations continue. By the end of 2017, in Detroit, Wayne County Prosecutor, Kym Worthy, had conducted 1,947 investigations, identified 817 serial rapists, and convicted 127 people. The process hasn’t ended for Wayne County though, and it shows no signs of slowing. In Kalamazoo County, the entire backlog of rape kits has already been tested, but investigations are still underway.
Flint Police Department in Genessee County still has more than 450 rape kits that need to be processed and investigated, but they’ve already arrested 30 suspects, and gotten 5 convictions. Battle Creek in Calhoun County has also made headway in testing their backlog, and has also made securedl convictions including that of 34-year-old Jeffrey Wimberly, who claims he has been falsely accused of rape.
What happens now that old rape cases are being reopened?
It will likely still be several years before the entire backlog is dealt with, although state funding is only available through 2020. However, between now and then, we can expect a significant number of people in Michigan to be charged with rape, as old cases are reopened and investigated. The question now, is whether everyone who will be charged is actually guilty. How reliable is 30 year old evidence, 30 year old memories, and 30 year old allegations? Are innocent people going to end up in prison, and on the sex offender list for things they never did, decades ago?
If you or a loved one have been charged with rape, sexual assault or any other felony in Michigan, you’re going to need help from aggressive and experienced criminal defense attorneys. At The Kronzek Firm, our legal team has spent decades defending people in Michigan against allegations of all varieties, from sex crimes and assault to murder and computer crimes. If you have been charged with a crime and you need help, call us at 866 766 5245 (866 7No Jail). We can help you!