Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cold case solution found amidst Houston rape kit backlog

The Houston Chronicle has an update on the evaluation of Houston PD's rape kit backlog, highlighting a cold case solved by testing mislabeled samples ("Mislabeled rape kit from 2003 linked to other assaults," Oct. 10). The article opened:
In August 2003, an elderly woman was paying bills in the dining room of her Braeswood apartment when a man grabbed her from behind, dragged the kicking and screaming woman to her bedroom and raped her.

But just months ago, nine years after the attack, the rape kit used by the Houston Police Department was finally tested, and a man has been charged with aggravated sexual assault in the case. The evidence, stored in the police property room, had been mislabeled, officials said Wednesday.

The kit was one of thousands collecting dust at the HPD facility. Currently, the department's backlog stands at 6,663.

Two months after that 2003 incident, the man charged, Wesley Bernard Gordon, was implicated in another attack - this time in the rape of a homeless woman.

And since 2003, Gordon has been charged with several sexual assaults. Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos said Wednesday that the 2003 case further exemplifies problems with HPD's crime lab operations.


Anonymous said...

The rape kit backlog keeps men out of prison. It lowers the prison population.

Richard Boland said...

I'm a tad suspicious about the "mislabelled" part. I realize they have a serial rapist as a suspect, but unless they can prove otherwise, there will always be a reasonable doubt that the "mos-labeling" said "fake rape kit created from the guy we wanted to frame," instead of, "actual rape kit processed after a real rape."

Richard Boland said...

"mis-labeling," even

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:49, it also may keep innocent ones incarcerated. It cuts both ways. When in Dallas they began testing old evidence, a lot of innocent men walked free.

Anonymous said...

Mislabeled evidence is bad,,even worse is the ignoring the violent crime evidence and allowing it to back log,,,,WHY?
Are the forensic labs so busy testing 2 gram marijuana crimes to do the lab work on rape and probably other violent crimes?
Are law enforcement personnel dropping the ball and not pushing their evidence through the labs or who designated that these rape case lab evaluation as secondary testing?

Anonymous said...

There is not much revenue in rape convictions. The money is in the fines on drug and dwi convictions. When human behavior does not make sense...follow the money...then it's crystal clear. Plus prosecutors would not want any exculpatory evidence rearing its ugly head before they scare some innocent guy into a plea.

FleaStiff said...

Backlog clearance will mainly find men who are already in prison on other charges but will never lead to fines or revenue-generating fine enhancements.

Anonymous said...

Setting aside the goofy comments, there are some actual policy-related issues here. First, paper work errors are going to happen in any system. In a backlogged system like HPD, there is a very high likelihood that they will not be identified. In a non-backlogged system, there is a better chance that the errors will be identified early on, and then corrected.

So why does the backlog exist? Because the funding level doesn't match the need level. This isn't an HPD problem, really. It is a City of Houston issue. The powers to be didn't make good funding choices in the past, and this is the consequence. It's not much different than having a backlog in filling potholes in the streets.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, (7:03 AM, IMHO the only goofy comment so far is the mis-placed spamola). You made a good point in yours but Yes, it's a friggin HPD issue & of course you knew that.

The dicision made to utilize Rape Test Kits was implemented in _____ by ________. The decision to store them vs. testing them via a tried and true first in first out accounting method was implemented in _____by _________. The following Crime Victims' advocates groups, celebrities & political figures & candidates: ______,____,____ have gone public to protest, march & voice their disgust. The name of the person that decides to test or not to test is _______. It cost $_____ per test. The cost of the tests are paid from the ______ Fund / Account. The current & future DA said this is what she / he is going to do about the stack-log _________.

Fill in the blanks and squint as it becomes clear as to exactly who the blame shall rightfully go to. Better off, don't bother with the Test. Instead consider contacting Mrs. Obama, Mrs. Lykos, Mrs. Butterworth asking them why they are sitting back and allowing crimes against (mostly) GIRLS & WOMEN to be ignored to the tune of 6,663 cases in Houston alone?

*This isn't a new subject. This is a Texas wide problem and it'll take real Texans to do something about it this month.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

That was (7:25 AM).

Anonymous said...

To get everyone started –
*Corresponding with the White House (First Lady)
Mailing Address: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 20500
Phone: (202) 456-2121

*For additional contact info consider going here today.

*To submit comments online go here today.

*Don't forget to send them a link to this GFB posting & let us know what the replies are.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how writing to Washington will help. Currently in Texas, under SB1636, all backlogged sexual assault evidence has to be sent to a lab for testing.

John Vasquez said...

Revenue and "too busy testing...marijuana" is not an issue. Crime labs, especially large ones like HPD have personnel that specialize in one type of forensic discipline, i.e. DNA, drugs, firearms. Over the last 10+ yrs, the emphasis has been on DNA testing, specifically the backlogged sexual asslt kits. Millions of dollars has been earmarked by the Feds and distributed to each state to handle the backlog issue. The problem is that there aren't enough DNA specialists to go around. You can't just take someone from the drug section and tell them they're now doing DNA testing. It doesn't work that way.

More and more mandates (funded and unfunded) are placed on DPS which creates an immediate backlog. DPS does their best to keep up.

SB 1636 is a good bill; however, it has created more backlog for DPS. Agencies should have been sending in the rape kits all along, but they weren't. SB 1636 required agencies to send in any and all test kits on hand that had not been tested prior to the effective date of the bill.

SB 1616, deals with biological evidence and required DPS to establish a work group of individuals across the state to create state-wide standards for collection, preservation, storage, and disposition of biological evidence. The work group completed the assignment and will be posting the information on the DPS website for end users to review, upon approval.

This issue is a vicious circle and no one person or group can be blamed for the backlog. The explosion of DNA over the yrs and legislation to keep up with the best practices, lack of funding, lack of equipment and lack of trained personnel is where the problem lies.

ckikerintulia said...

Scott, this is somewhat off topic, but there was a murder of an elderly (84 yr. old) disabled woman in Tulia, and "molestation" of her mentally challenged middle age daughter, back in August 2011. Not quite a cold case I guess, but Texas Rangers were kind of at an impasse. They did have DNA from the crime scene, which matched DNA from an assault in Hico, TX several years earlier. But the DNA was not matched to an individual, until there was a sexual assault in Minnesota, where the DNA matched the two events in Texas. And now there's a name for the guy, and he's in custody in Minnesota. Probably will be extradited to Texas, where he can be tried for the Tulia murder and the Hico assault. If they elect to try for capital punishment and he's convicted, it will be very expensive for an already strapped Swisher County budget.

My point if I have one: DNA can be useful for apprehension as well as exoneration. And I have no doubt you agree with this point. Another point might be that I hope they don't go for the death penalty in this case, and that it needs to be tried outside Swisher County, as the victims of the crime here were well known and respected locals.

Anonymous said...

If revenue were raised by testing rape kits we would have more people testing them regardless whether or not analysts from other disciplines are fungible.

Anonymous said...

SB 1636 does not distinguish between cases which the police determine to be unfounded, and those that are determined to be founded. They are all to be sent to a lab and tested.

That is clearly a public policy level choice. But it does create consequences that impact the system. It means that testing that will be done on cases that the police have determined that the complaint has no merit - i.e., no crime was committed.

Since only DNA profiles associated with crimes are allowable in CODIS, that means that the DNA profiles obtained by the testing in those cases are ineligible for entry in CODIS. So the testing is essentially a waste of public funds.

Similarly for date rape type offenses. The identity of the perpetrator is not at issue. If there is a conviction, it will not require DNA testing. The defendants DNA profile will go into CODIS later as a convicted offender. DNA testing on the kit provides no value, but it will be done anyway.

Is this a good way to spend public money? Clearly, someone thought so when SB1636 was passed. But at the local level, people seem to think differently. My understanding is that in some of the metropolitan areas where the number of cases is large, they are using local labs for the cases that are determined to be founded, and sending the evidence in unfounded cases to the state for testing.

Jessica N said...

It's so ridiculous that this even happened. While we see all of these people getting incarcerated for minor things and someone who is a rapist ends up free for years. This is why I have such an issue with the justice system. It seems all this effort goes to waste.