(The Center Square) – Missouri Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced today the completion of a $5.5 million program clearing a backlog of 3,298 untested, reported sexual assault kits to laboratories for testing.
The Missouri legislature appropriated $2.6 million for the initiative last year. The federal Bureau of Justice Assistance Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) provided a $2,871,423 grant in 2018 for the attorney general to complete a statewide sexual assault kit inventory and develop a comprehensive statewide system for addressing previously untested kits.
In 2020, SAKI awarded Schmitt’s office an additional $2 million to continue the initiative and perform DNA testing on 1,148 kits, upload information to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and enter cases into the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program database.
“The numbers don’t tell the story of the victims, the human beings whose lives will always be changed and marred by the violence and the senseless acts of others,” Schmitt told reporters during a press conference. “Their past will not be erased and the damage cannot be undone. Yet, we still do this for them, the victims, so they can at least seek answers and pursue justice.”
Schmitt credited state coordinator Judge M. Keithley Williams for the project’s success and stated there are currently three active prosecutions directly resulting from the CODIS hits from the tested kits.
Williams said the backlogged kits were sent to labs outside of Missouri so local labs could focus on cases happening within the last few days.
“Since I began in February 2019, the people working with me travelled about 46,000 miles in pursuit of locating the untested sexual assault kits in the state,” Williams said. “We’ve travelled to small and large law enforcement departments. We have gone to hospitals around the state.”
Schmitt said 169 law enforcement agencies had cleared backlogs by sending untested kits to labs.
The funding helped create a central repository for untested, unreported sexual assault kits and designed a website to track the kits to ensure backlogs don’t occur in the future. More than 2,000 untested, unreported kits have been delivered to the repository and Schmitt’s office is working on training law enforcement, hospital staff, victim advocates and others in using the tracking system.
Missouri law allows prosecution for “rape in the first degree, forcible rape, attempted rape in the first degree, attempted forcible rape, sodomy in the first degree, forcible sodomy, attempted sodomy in the first degree, attempted forcible sodomy” at any time.
“Not only is this an incredible milestone, but it’s my hope that it sends the message to victims across Missouri that I take this incredibly, personally, serious and that my Office will continue our hard work to honor the sacrifice, bravery, and courage it takes to submit to a sexual assault kit,” Schmitt said. “While this is a major accomplishment, there is still work to be done. My Office has worked with the Missouri State Highway Patrol to send referrals to prosecutors when CODIS hits are encountered and will continue to do so. I have offered my Office’s expertise and staff to help with the three prosecutions currently underway, and we will continue to make those referrals and seek justice wherever possible.”