On February 28, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt launched the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative to determine how many thousands of rape kits are sitting on hospital and law enforcement shelves waiting to be tested. At the time, the state had six months to find out.
About four months remain for Schmitt’s office to get a firm count. Otherwise, the state does not get about $2 million in federal funding to hire staff to test the kits.
“I mean it’s a big state. You have 114 counties and the city of St. Louis. So, the most important thing early on here is to figure out the enormity and the gravity of the issue and then tackle it head on,” says Schmitt.
Fifty Missouri hospitals have counted how many untested rape kits they have, and the information has been submitted to Schmitt’s office.
Schmitt tells Missourinet a working group is developing a three-step process of determining how many untested kits exist, launching a tracking system for them and getting the kits tested.
“People ought to have an expectation that these cases will ultimately, that justice will be delivered and that people, if they’ve submitted to a kit, that it can be tested. That’s what we’re doing,” he says.
In February, Schmitt announced Judge M. Keithly Williams as the state coordinator of the program. During the announcement, she said about 40% of participants responded to a survey under former Attorney General Hawley, who “suggested” a backlog of about 5,400.
“You here the number of over 5,000 untested across the state and it shocks the conscience, right? And it should. I think that’s why we’ve moved so aggressively with pursuing the grant, hiring Judge Williams and moving forward,” Schmitt says.
When asked if any other hires have been made, Schmitt says his office has internal resources that it is working on.
“But Judge Williams is really the key here,” he says. “We wanted to have somebody who had been in the judicial branch, very well respected, has relationships with law enforcement, with victim advocacy groups.”
Hawley, a fellow Republican now serving in the U.S. Senate, is cosponsoring legislation passed last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee that would reauthorize a federal grant program aimed at ending the backlog of untested DNA evidence from unsolved crimes, especially rape kits. Whether Missouri could draw down additional federal money under the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program is unknown. The measure has not been finalized by Congress at this point.
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