Friday, 30 November 2018

Test on old DNA puts alleged rapist behind bars after 18 years

 In 2000, a 17-year-old girl was raped in a West Palm Beach motel room. DNA evidence sat untested until 2017. And after results in August showed a match, it took only three months to make an arrest.
The 18-year delay in Tuesday's arrest of Michael Hunter is indicative of not just a statewide, but a national, issue with rape kits going untested for years - sometimes decades.
Florida's backlog totals 13,435. California, with 13,615, is the only state with more, according to, a nonprofit group pushing for reforms.
Hunter's actual arrest is part of a concerted effort to reduce backlogs. Twenty states, including Florida, have passed new laws in the past few years mandating when rape kits, or sexual assault forensic exams, must be submitted for DNA testing.
"It's a very gratifying feeling to be able to tell the victim that we were able to get enough for an arrest," said Detective Christian Tomas, of the West Palm Beach Police Department. "Hopefully we have continued success."
Hunter was charged with sexual battery of a minor and kidnapping. Arrest records show addresses for the 50-year-old in Delray Beach and Riviera Beach.
Hunter was 31 and went by "Dred" when he was introduced to the girl at a Red Roof Inn on March 18, 2000. A girlfriend of the 17-year-old left Hunter in room No. 102 with the girl, according to an arrest report.
Hunter immediately locked the door, attacked the girl, held his hand over her mouth and sexually assaulted her, police said.
The girl called police, reported the rape and submitted to a sexual assault forensic exam, which includes swabbing for DNA.
And that's where the case stood still until West Palm Beach police teamed up with the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office in a $1 million project to reduce the backlog.
Hunter's arrest is the first case to result from that effort.
The kit in this case was pulled for testing on about April 17, 2017. The results were released in August. By Sept. 14, police had made a DNA match with Hunter in a statewide database.
Hunter refused to speak with police when they telephoned him on Nov. 20. The next day, a probable cause report was issued. Six days later, on Tuesday, Hunter was arrested, records show.
At his first-appearance hearing Wednesday morning in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, Hunter's bond was set at $100,000, he was assigned an assistant public defender and taken to jail.
The agency previously had been sending 30 untested kits a year to the FBI in no particular order. The rest sat, including this one.
Things changed a bit after Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill two years ago.
The legislation applies only to new kits though, setting a 30-day deadline to submit them for testing and a 120-day deadline to complete the testing.
The crime lab operated by the sheriff's office is currently tackling 352 instances of untested DNA evidence. Some of them date back to the 1980s, police said.
"There are quite a few cases that we have to work," Tomas said. "Hopefully, we'll have a couple of other victims with some closure."

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