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Las Vegas police expect to clear rape kit backlog within a year

Updated April 16, 2018 - 6:33 pm

The Metropolitan Police Department expects to clear Southern Nevada’s massive backlog of sexual assault kits, including some that went untested for up to three decades, within the next year.

“We have a very aggressive testing schedule, and we’ve been fortunate enough to finally have the money we need to move forward with this process,” Kim Murga said Monday during a panel discussion at the Rape Crisis Center. Murga is the Police Department’s DNA laboratory director.

As of Monday, Murga announced, Metro had collected a total of 8,152 rape kits. About 4,060 of those have been subjected to some form of forensic analysis.

“In a few short years, we’re about 50 percent done with DNA testing,” Murga said, noting that the remaining kits will be tested by spring 2019. That is down from 6,473 untested kits as of December 2014 — the most recent figure available from the Police Department.

Rape kit backlogs, a problem across the country, have been blamed on a lack of training, resources and policies that outline when to test rape kits. But a new law, passed by the Nevada Legislature last year, requires all sexual assault kits to be tested within 120 days of the DNA collection.

The bill also mandated the creation of a Nevada-wide sexual assault kit tracking program, which Murga said must be in place by January 2021. The automated tracking program would allow victims to follow the status of their rape kits as they go through the criminal justice system, starting the moment a victim is seen by a sexual assault nurse examiner.

“So you’ll follow that kit to the forensic laboratory, to the investigator, to the victim advocates, to the prosecutor,” Murga explained.

Among the thousands of untested rape kits that had accumulated in Southern Nevada since 1985 was Nadia Iverson’s. Her murder went unsolved for more than 20 years until her kit was sent for testing in March 2016.

The results revealed in February 2017 that the DNA of former Las Vegas police officer Arthur Lee Sewall Jr., 51, was a match for Iverson’s kit. Sewall has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and is awaiting trial.

When Sewall was arrested in January, about 5,600 of the kits in Southern Nevada were within Metro’s jurisdiction, Murga said at the time. The Police Department’s laboratory handles all sexual assault kits collected in four counties: Clark, Nye, Lincoln and Esmeralda.

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

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