Houston rape kit backlog back; will be erased by July, lab pledges

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More than a year after Houston's leaders celebrated the official end of a backlog of thousands of rape kits, it is up again. (KTRK)

More than a year after Houston's leaders celebrated the official end of a backlog of thousands of rape kits, some dating back to the 1980s, the backlog has begun creeping up again -- and the city lab that does the testing promised Wednesday the new backlog will be erased by July 1.

The current backlog sits at 333 rape kits that are more than a month old and 234 kits more than three months old, records show. The Houston Forensic Science Center's goal is to have those kits tested within a month, director Dr. Dan Garner said.

The lab simply got more kits than they could test in recent months, Garner told abc13. He also said the lab had staff shortages that are now being addressed.

"We're going to staff up with additional people, we're going to buy additional equipment," Garner said. "It's a matter of resources. We needed more people."

See the memo on the backlog Garner sent to Mayor Sylvester Turner here.

See the Ted Oberg Investigates report from last year about the rape kit backlog: Delayed DNA testing allowed alleged rapists to commit new crimes

In addition, the science center will work staff overtime and now have grant monies to outsource testing to make sure the backlog is cleared.

"Based on what I am seeing right now, we will be able to meet the deadline," Garner said.

Another possible factor: March has seen an uptick in rape cases.

About 90 rape kits are collected as evidence in Houston each month. In March that number was 118, about a 20 percent increase.

Rape kits backlogs have long been a cloud over Houston.

The rape kit backlog was found in 2002, when a state investigation uncovered severe problems in the Houston police crime lab.

According to an audit around that time: "the DNA Section was in shambles - plagued by a leaky roof, operating for years without a line supervisor, overseen by a technical leader who had no personal experience performing DNA analysis and who was lacking the qualifications required under the FBI standards, staffed by underpaid and undertrained analysts, and generating mistake-ridden and poorly documented casework."

Because of a result the state's findings, the DNA unit was temporarily shut down.

In 2013, Houston City Council, at the urging of then-Mayor Annise Parker and with help from U.S. Senator John Cornyn, used $4.4 million to created a new lab separate from the HPD lab and chip away at the rape kit backlog.

But the backlog meant rapists went on to be charged with other crimes while their DNA sat untested in the police evidence room.

Ted Oberg Investigates spoke with a victim of rape whose kit sat in an evidence room for years.

"I'm not a survivor," she said. "Not when you have to live like that. I still have nightmares."

She was raped nine years ago. Only last year was her kit tested and someone arrested.

"It seems like yesterday," she said. "I don't know how many years have to go by for it not to be like that."

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner recently called the new backlog unacceptable.

The director of the city's forensic science center said he agrees.

"It needs to be timely to have an impact on the investigation," Garner said.
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