PHOENIX - At Valley police departments, the ABC15 Investigators found nearly 3,000 rape kits have never been sent for DNA testing.
Many of the Valley's law enforcement agencies send less than half of the rape kits they collect from victims to be tested for DNA. In the last five years, at least three departments have sent less than 27 percent.
But now, we've discovered that could be just the beginning.
There are hundreds more untested kits waiting at the Valley's crime labs to be tested. And now, the ABC15 Investigators found, a multi-step process for testing DNA evidence at the state's largest crime lab can hold up the processing of a kit for months – and sometimes for good.
A FATHER'S FRUSTRATION
"It's just a sad, troubling situation," said one Valley father. His 16-year-old daughter was raped at a party earlier this year.
He asked that his name not be used in this article to protect his daughter's identity.
"There was drinking involved," he said. "After the party, her friends told her that she was raped." She didn't have any memory of it.
Hysterical, her father said together they contacted the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. A detective came to their house and took a report, and his daughter submitted to a sexual assault evidence exam, he said.
Detectives collected the rape kit and sent it to the state's Department of Public Safety lab for DNA testing, he said.
If DNA were extracted from the kit, it would be integral in bringing her attacker to justice, he said. The boy accused of raping her, another high school student, denies the two had sex at all.
There's been one main problem in continuing with this case, though, the father said.
"The delay at the DPS lab has been painful."
A TWO-STEP PROCESS
"When a kit is submitted to a laboratory, that's actually a two-step process," according to Vince Figarelli, the DPS Scientific Analysis Bureau Superintendent, who runs the state's system of crime labs.
The first step, he says, is to check a kit to see if DNA is present. If it is, step two is to test that DNA to identify a suspect.
Just for step one, Figarelli says it takes the lab about 60 to 90 days right now.
But that's not what happened in this father's case.
He says that it took the lab six months just to find out if DNA was present. Now, the detective in his case is telling him that it will take another six months to process the kit for DNA.
"Now it's going to be over a year before we get the complete results back," he said.
WHEN A KIT IS COUNTED AS ‘TESTED'
At the Valley's crime labs, the ABC15 Investigators found there's a backlog of about 197 kits waiting to be tested.
And, as this father found out, "sometimes when the kits are tested, they're not tested completely."
In fact, in the past five years, Valley police reported to us that they tested 2,546 rape kits.
But the ABC15 Investigators discovered many of those kits never actually completed step two, and their DNA is never analyzed.
That's a problem, because we found that most police departments count a kit as tested the moment it's been sent to the crime lab – whether DNA was analyzed or not.
A few years ago, Figarelli did an analysis of all cases with DNA evidence at the crime lab to find out how many of them go on to step two. "I took a look at how many cases actually went on for DNA analysis," he said. "It's about 40 percent of the time."
That 40 percent is for DNA evidence in all cases – including rapes. And, whether a kit's tested for DNA, Figarelli says is out of his hands, and up to police.
"We write a report to the agencies and say, ‘Hey, this is the stuff that we need to proceed,'" he said, "And then we wait for them to come back to us with the information that we need or the samples that we need to move on for DNA analysis."
That information can include DNA samples from suspects or consensual sex partners and Figarelli says there are lots of reasons why detectives don't tell the lab to proceed with testing.
"If it's a consent case, where the actual sex act was not contested, a 'he said/she said' kind of thing," Figarelli said. "Or if they don't feel the case is strong enough to move on for prosecution. Or, if we simply didn't find anything to analyze."
A PAINFUL WAIT
"I just don't understand why we need to do this in stages," the 16-year-old's father said.
Every stage, a painful reminder to him of what happened to his daughter.
After six months of waiting, he said he got a phone call from the detective working their case telling him the kit came up positive for the presence of DNA. "You get that whole flood of emotions and
anger coming over you again," he said, "because, in your mind, it's confirmed."
Now, he said, "we're left to wait again."