Arizona roughly 20% of the way through testing rape kit backlog

Posted at 8:07 PM, Mar 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-17 08:32:50-04

No longer forgotten and left on a shelf, scores of previously untested rape kits are now being processed to help solve crimes in Arizona.

The kits contain DNA swabs, clothing, hair samples and other evidence collected from sexual assault victims after they were attacked.

A governor’s task force identified 6,424 rape kits statewide last year that were never submitted for analysis. ABC15 first exposed this public safety problem four years ago.

To date, 1,300 kits have been processed, with most of the work done by private DNA laboratories. Arizona Department of Public Safety employees get the results and input them into CODIS, a national criminal DNA database. So far, they’ve discovered 250 profile matches.

Ducey: Arizona will test all rape kits, old and new

“It may be a profile that's hitting against another unknown case, in which case we don't know who that person is,” said Stephen Butler, who is overseeing the process at the DPS crime lab. “We're linking multiple cases together. Those are the most exciting ones.”

A profile match helps the original police department reinvestigate the case. At least three hits have resulted in indictments in Arizona.

Antonio Ray Sullivan pleaded guilty in August 2016, after being connected to a 2011 Tempe burglary where he tried to assault a sleeping woman.

Nicholas Blackwater is scheduled for trial in May for a 2000 rape case. He was already in prison for a series of sex assaults on hitchhikers and prostitutes.

Pima County prosecutors say old rape kit evidence led them to Nathan Loebe. He was arrested last month in Kentucky, and he is a suspect in sex assault cases in several states.

“That's really what the key to this is: Are you a serial rapist? Have you previously offended here or in some other state in the nation?” said DPS Director Frank Milstead.