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Snyder, Schuette, Worthy Announce $4 Million Plan to Bring Justice to Michigan Women Who Were Victims of Sexual Violence

DNA Tests of Detroit Rape Kits Will Improve Public Safety, Get Violent Criminals Off Streets, and Bring Justice for Victim

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

 

LANSING - Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette, joined by Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, today announced a $4 million plan to DNA test thousands of unprocessed rape kits from crimes committed in the City of Detroit.  The goal of the plan is to remove rapists and other violent criminals from Southeastern Michigan streets, protecting the region from serial criminals, as well as beginning the process of securing justice for women who were the victims of horrific crimes.

 

Snyder, Schuette and Worthy were joined at the announcement by: Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, Director of the Michigan State Police; and Debi Cain, Executive Director of Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board.

 

"It is so important to understand the significance of today's announcement for public safety," said Prosecutor Worthy.  "Governor Snyder and Bill Schuette recognize that rapists do not stop at Eight Mile Road. They have shown a real commitment to making sure that Wayne County, the entire State of Michigan, and even citizens across the country will be safe from rapists. I applaud them today."

 

"Thousands of victims have been waiting too long for the justice they deserve," Snyder said.  "This initiative will start us on the path to find justice for these victims. It also will help us improve public safety in Michigan by catching and locking up more of these vicious criminals.  This initiative is a prime example of how state and local agencies can work together to find innovative ways to fight crime.  I congratulate Attorney General Schuette, Prosecutor Worthy, and the Michigan State Police for developing this cooperative approach that will help improve public safety in our state."  

 

"The discovery that evidence in thousands of violent crimes against women was ignored for years is an absolute travesty of justice and left Southeastern Michigan vulnerable to future violence that could have been avoided," said Schuette.   "Every woman who was a victim of sexual violence deserves a full and complete investigation, and these funds will begin the road to justice for those who have already waited too long," Schuette continued.  "The first responsibility of government is safety.  Here, the scope of failure by government to meet its responsibility is almost impossible to comprehend - it is outrageous.  But for the women who were victims of these crimes, we are here to start the process of finding justice, and hopefully, some level of closure."   

 

To fund the rape kit testing, Snyder included a $4 million appropriation for the State Forensics Laboratory Fund in his proposed supplemental budget currently under review by the legislature.  The appropriation is funded by settlement monies successfully recovered by Schuette from state and national litigation.

 

In 2009, approximately 11,300 untested rape kits dating back 25 years were discovered in a Detroit Police Department property storage facility.  Each rape kit has the potential to solve multiple crimes, including those committed by serial rapists.   Since the closure of the Detroit Police Department Crime Laboratory in September of 2009, the Michigan State Police (MSP) has been providing forensic science services to the city of Detroit and the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office. The MSP's Forensic Science Division has been instrumental in the laboratory analysis of sexual assault kits and will continue to work with the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office and the Detroit Police Department on efforts to test the remaining sexual assault kits.

 

Although media reports suggest untested kits have been problematic in cities around the country, Detroit and Houston are two jurisdictions currently working with the National Institute of Justice to determine how to approach the testing of previously untested kits to determine the best criminal justice outcome.  Prosecutor Worthy has worked with a unique collaborative team of law enforcement officials, prosecutors, researchers and victim advocates to work toward testing every kit.  With a grant from the federal government's Office on Violence Against Women to the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board, Worthy joined the Michigan State Police, the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board, Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, and Michigan State University to create "Project 400", an effort to test 400 randomly selected kits in order to determine the nature of the evidence and what kinds of cases are connected to the evidence.  Since the completion of Project 400, an additional 1,600 kits have been submitted for testing.  To date, 569 have made it through the lengthy testing process.   

 

Worthy continued, "My office has been hard at work with these 11,303 rape kits for four years. Testing is very expensive, and already approximately $1.5 million in federal grant funds have been secured from the National Institute of Justice and over $50,000 in private donations have been allocated for this purpose. To date, 569 kits have been tested with those funds. Of those tested, we found 136 CODIS (DNA) ‘hits' in 11 states and the District of Columbia, and 32 serial rapists have been identified.  With the money that will be provided today for further testing, thousands more kits can be tested.  The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office is committed to prosecuting every single case that can be prosecuted as a result of these hits."

 

Of the kits that have been tested, 32 of the DNA profiles tested are serial rapists, and some have been identified by name.  In other cases, DNA testing results connected multiple rapes to a single perpetrator, and this evidence will help law enforcement further investigate to determine the identity of the rapist and remove them from the streets.  Already law enforcement investigators have connected DNA profiles to crimes committed in eleven other states and the District of Columbia

 

To date, Worthy has launched five prosecutions as a result of the testing: 

  1. Antonio Jackson - A fourteen-year-old kit containing DNA evidence linked Antonio Jackson, 38, to the 1997 home invasion and rape of a woman at gunpoint. Jackson broke into the victim's home at 3:50 a.m. on February 17, 1997, held her at gunpoint and raped her while her children slept in the same bed. Jackson was found Guilty by jury on one count of Home Invasion - 1st Degree and one count of Criminal Sexual Conduct - 1st Degree.  Jackson is currently serving a sentence of 30-50 years in prison. 
  2. Eric Taliaferro - A thirteen-year-old kit containing DNA evidence linked Eric Taliaferro, 39, to the 1998 home invasion and rape of a mother.  Taliaferro raped the victim with her baby on the bed next to her.  After the assault, Taliaferro then stole money from the baby's piggy bank. Taliaferro pled no contest to two counts of Criminal Sexual Conduct - 1st Degree, and is currently serving a sentence of 15-30 years in prison. 
  3. Three additional rape cases involving two defendants, Jerrod Allen and Billy Bingham, remain pending in Wayne County.

 

"Despite the fact that national crime statistics have long indicated that sexual assault is one of the most unreported violent crimes, in Michigan, we want sexual assault victims to know that a compassionate and victim-centered criminal justice response is a priority," said Debi Cain, Executive Director, Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board.  "The collaborative dedication and leadership of Governor Snyder and General Schuette, and the unwavering commitment of Prosecutor Worthy, sends an important message to sexual assault victims across Michigan."

 

Snyder, Schuette and Worthy look forward to working with the legislature to appropriate the funds and begin the testing process promptly.  The State intends to work with established private laboratories to secure the most competitive rates to test as many kits as possible in a timely fashion.  Worthy remains committed to prosecuting any potential suspects that result from the testing. 

 

In 2011, the National Institute of Justice has published a report on the challenge of untested rape kits nationwide, called The Road Ahead: Unanalyzed Evidence in Sexual Assault Cases, available online at https://ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/233279.pdf.

 

Michigan victims of sexual violence are encouraged to call the national sexual assault hotline toll-free, 1-800-656-HOPE.  All calls are confidential, and will be answered by a local counseling center affiliated with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).  Assistance is also available online at www.rainn.org.  

 

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