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Metro: Rape kits not always best evidence

Although a large number of rape kits in Las Vegas remain untested, Las Vegas police pointed out Monday that in many cases, requests are never made for testing.

The Joyful Heart Foundation released a report last week with numbers on untested rape kits in Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Seattle and Tulsa, Okla. The Las Vegas Police Department has about 5,200 untested kits, the foundation reported.

The department acknowledged that number. Of cases in which a DNA analysis is requested by investigators, however, the analysis is completed 100 percent of the time, Metro’s Director of Laboratory Services Kimberly Murga said.

There are many reasons why a rape kit might remain untested, she said.

Many sexual assault cases become “he said, she said” scenarios, and charges are never filed. Other samples are taken in cases in which the identity of the perpetrator is already known and admitted, so analyzing the kit isn’t needed.

The rape kit also isn’t always the best evidence. Sometimes a bed sheet or item of clothing will yield better results, so it is tested instead of the actual rape kit.

Murga said that a rape kit can turn into two separate sampling processes because it often contains DNA from both the attacker and the victim.

Analyzing a rape kit can take six to eight weeks and costs up to $1,500. Metro doesn’t have the resources to test all of them.

“Sex assault kits are very labor intensive,” Murga said.

Las Vegas police began a partnership last month with the National Institute of Justice and the FBI to handle rape kits more efficiently. The department has outsourced about 60 kits to the FBI.

Something else that hopefully soon will be available, Murga said, is funding from an act passed by Congress last year called SAFER — Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Reporting.

The White House announced $35 million in its fiscal year 2015 budget to “inventory and test rape kits, develop ‘cold case’ units to pursue new investigative leads, and support victims throughout the process,” according to a White House press release.

DNA evidence is never destroyed by Las Vegas police, Murga said. Every kit is kept in Metro’s evidence vault. When a detective, judge or prosecutor decides the DNA might benefit a case, the sample is taken out of the vault and to the forensic laboratory.

Contact reporter Annalise Little at alittle@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0391. Find her on Twitter: @annalisemlittle.

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