Joyful Heart in the News

Wayne Co. Prosecutor Worthy lobbies for more rape kit testing funds

March 13, 2013
The Detroit News
David Shepardson

Washington—Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy lobbied Wednesday for more federal support to test a backlog of more than 10,000 rape kits from the city of Detroit and won praise from a national advocate for victims of sexual assault.

After initially testing 400 of the kits picked at random from a backlog of 11,300 that were found in a Detroit police storage facility in 2009 for a pilot project, Worthy said they have completed testing another 398 rape kits.

Of those, 189 profiles had enough material to enter into the nationwide database known as CODIS, or Combined DNA Index System, resulting in 106 hits.

Of those 106 hits, 29 serial rapists were identified, Worthy said.

"It is phenomenal," she said in an interview.

Mariska Hargitay, an actress on the "Law & Order: SVU" television show and advocate for victims of sexual assault, noted federal officials estimate there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits around the country.

"The bottom line is a rape kit can bring justice," Hargitay said in a speech at the National Press Club, where she praised Worthy, who was in attendance, as the "unbelievable, unstoppable Wayne County prosecutor."

Hargitay said identifying 29 serial rapists "just goes to show and makes you think about what could have not happened."

She recounted that one of the tested rape kits came from a Detroit mother of two who was raped in her bed 14 years ago with her children sleeping next to her. After the kit was tested, her attacker was charged, convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Hargitay's group, the Joyful Heart Foundation, is working with Worthy's office to help raise the $12 million to $15 million it would take to clear the backlog — "not to mention all of the money needed for investigative leads and to move the cases forward," she said.

"The city's financial woes are making national headlines," Hargitay said.

It's not clear how many of these older cases will be prosecuted — or can be prosecuted — since some of the cases are years or more than a decade ago.

"We're just trying to survive at this point because of the budget cuts," Worthy said. "What's the point of doing all this if you're not going to get them into CODIS, get the hits and go out and arrest these suspects and prosecute them?"

She noted that her office's six-person sexual assault team is funded by the city of Detroit — and could be cut by the official who is expected to be appointed by the state to oversee the city's finances.

"We have six lawyers; all they do is this," said Worthy, who added the unit "may be in jeopardy because of who knows what the emergency manager will do."

Worthy's office has funding through March 2014 from the Justice Department to test 1,600 kits — or 800 more — by the Marshall University Forensic Science Center.

"Now we're looking for funding sources anywhere we can find," she said Wednesday. "I'm going over to Justice (Department) tomorrow to beg for some more money."

Worthy's office is getting donations through the Detroit Crime Commission to help test more rape kits, and the commission has raised about $40,000 through donations.

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