Colorado has cleared a backlog of thousands of untested rape kits

Investigators could be closer to solving hundreds of Colorado sex assault cases.

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By Sadie Gurman, Associated Press

ARVADA, Colo. — Investigators could be closer to solving hundreds of Colorado sex assault cases now that authorities have eliminated a backlog of thousands of untested rape kits, the state Bureau of Investigation said Friday.

Officials said they cleared a backlog of more than 3,500 kits, some decades old. Investigators then turned up 691 matches in a national DNA database, giving police a new chance at finding suspects.

The agency began sending the evidence to out-of-state labs after Colorado lawmakers passed legislation in 2013 mandating a statewide accounting of untested rape kits. The measure was part of a growing effort nationally to tackle rape kit backlogs, with dozens of states proposing plans for swifter inventory and analysis of the crucial evidence.

Officials collected 3,542 untested rape kits from Colorado police departments. The agencies did not submit the kits earlier, sometimes because they lacked suspects or victims weren’t willing to pursue charges.

From those kits, investigators developed 1,556 “profiles” that were then added to a national DNA database. Of those, 691 matched DNA already entered in the database, meaning a suspect in an unsolved rape was involved in another crime.

CBI officials did not know how many arrests or prosecutions the testing led to. But it did help solve the 1984 sex assault of a Greeley waitress by two men who are now awaiting trial on kidnapping charges, Police Chief Jerry Garner said.

Detectives collected a rape kit but “it sat in evidence and property for a very long time,” Garner said. “Generally back then, if you didn’t have a suspect in a case, the rape kit would sit, and sit, and sit.”

When the woman learned two men were arrested in April, she agreed to move forward with the criminal case, the chief said.

The 2013 law requires police agencies to submit rape kits to CBI within 21 days. But it also allowed the agency to hire more staff to handle the influx, CBI Deputy Director Jan Girten said.

Some of the backlogged samples were from cases so old the statute of limitations for filing charges has passed, Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke said.

“But,” he said, “at least we will be able to give some of these victims the closure they have been waiting for so long.”