Thousands of rape kits left untested, Valley police fall short in arresting accused rapists

An ABC15 investigation uncovered thousands of rape kits sitting untested at police departments across the Valley, and the problem appears to be part of a larger issue for local law enforcement.

ONE VICTIM'S STORY

Maria will never forget the moment she found her daughter Jamie after she had been raped.

"She was just crying and crying and rocking back and forth," she said. "There was nothing I could do to comfort her."

Jamie Jorrick was gang-raped in 2001 at the Mesa apartment complex where her boyfriend lived. In the middle of the night, three attackers broke in, demanding money and drugs.

At the time, no one could identify them. The three men were wearing bandanas and were armed with guns.

"They took her back into the room and raped her," her mother said, crying. "They took turns with her."

Jamie was eight and-a-half months pregnant at the time.

"They put a gun to her head," Maria said. "And they put a gun to her stomach."

After the assault, detectives and nurses collected DNA evidence from the crime scene and from Jamie's body in an effort to help identify the suspects. She was given an exam to collect any DNA evidence left on her body from bodily fluids like semen or saliva that could identify the suspects. The evidence was placed in a sexual assault evidence kit.

Even with the DNA evidence, after some time, detectives said the case turned cold.

But that changed in an instant last year.

TEN YEARS LATER, A DNA HIT

"In 2011, the DNA returned to a subject that was just being released from prison for some unrelated charges," Mesa Detective George Beck said.

A decade later, that hit led detectives to Odece Hill.

"For any crime they are arrested for, DNA swabs are being collected," said Sgt. Chuck Lines, who oversees Mesa's sex crime unit.

When Hill was arrested, his DNA was collected, entered into the system and matched to the DNA collected from Jamie's crime scene.

"He was recently convicted of 17 counts and is now sentenced to 90 plus years in prison," Beck said.

Jamie's family sat in the courtroom for every day of his trial.

One of the attackers is still on the loose.

For that reason, Maria, as well as Jamie's aunt and grandmother, asked only to be identified by their first names.

"Thank God she didn't die that day," said Jamie's aunt, Kim.

Jamie and her baby survived the assault that night. But she would later slip into a deep depression that affected her for years, according to her family.

Two months before Hill's trial, Jamie died after overdosing on her medication.

 "She was not here to tell her story," she said. "But the DNA did."

VALLEY ARREST RATES

In the Valley, what happened to Jamie's rapist is the exception, not the rule.

The ABC15 Investigators found there are almost 3,000 rape cases with untested DNA in the Valley.

Nationally, the FBI says the arrest rate for sexual assault is about 25 percent.

In Arizona, it's just 14 percent.

We requested numbers of reported sexual assaults and numbers of sexual assaults leading to arrest in the last five years of nearly every law enforcement agency in the Valley.

We found that every department falls below the national average for making arrests in reported sex assaults.

SEE ARREST RATES FOR EACH VALLEY POLICE DEPARTMENT

In the past five years, Gilbert had the highest, with 23 percent of reported sexual assaults resulting in arrests. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office had the lowest, with a rate of 6.6 percent.

TAKING ON THE ISSUE

"An untested kit usually means a rape wasn't taken very seriously by law enforcement," according to Sarah Tofte, a national advocate and researcher on this topic. She is the Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation, a New York-based non-profit.

She says the number of untested kits we uncovered in the Valley points to a larger problem in how police here investigate sex crimes.

"Most cities and states haven't taken on this issue or reckoned with it," she said.

In the course of our four-month investigation, we worked with Valley law enforcement to do just that.

Many departments got a count of the number of untested kits they have in storage for the first time. Others decided to test outstanding kits.

In other cities and states, Tofte says departments that have taken on this issue have seen dramatic results.

"They saw their arrest rate jump significantly," she said, of cities like New York and Los Angeles.

In New York City, police cleared their backlog of untested sexual assault kits and now test every kit that's collected. Their arrest rate jumped from 40 percent to 70 percent.

In Los Angeles County, officials finished testing a backlog of more than 6,000 kits last year. The new DNA led to more than 245 arrests.

Prosecutors and police in Illinois, Detroit and Cleveland have also decided to process untested kits.

IMPORTANCE OF DNA EVIDENCE

We asked our County Attorney, Bill Montgomery, why the Valley isn't following their lead.

"That's not my role," he said, "that's for

law enforcement and the labs to decide."

But Phoenix police, the state's largest law enforcement agency with the most untested kits in the Valley, said they don't think it's an issue.

As their policy stands, Phoenix police detectives and investigators are the ones who decide if a kit is sent to their crime lab to be tested for DNA or not.

"We would like to have that discretion," said spokesman, Sgt. Trent Crump. "We know that it's been taken away in other states."

 But, victims and their families often disagree.

"This whole issue with it even being a question of whether or not you process a rape kit," said Maria, Jamie's mother. "Why is it even a question?"

After Jamie was raped by three men in 2001, they tried to erase proof of the crime.

"They put her under scalding hot water to try and get rid of the evidence," said Maria.

And that evidence can be crucial in getting a conviction in a rape case.

"There's evidence that we've just got to have in these category of cases to be successful," said Montgomery, when asked how important sexual assault evidence kits are to getting a conviction. "So, it's very unusual for them to submit a case where some of those critical pieces of evidence are submitted up front."

Det. Beck agrees. "The smallest piece of evidence can lead to a potential suspect through DNA."

It did in Jamie's case. And her family says it could in many others.

"Those forgotten people, somebody needs to speak for them," Maria said. "This could make a difference."

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