Coroner's office has 500+ piece backlog to test for DNA evidence

Posted at 6:29 PM, Jul 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-20 18:29:28-04

CINCINNATI -- The Hamilton County coroner is hopeful that testing of a backlog of rape kits will be expedited in the hands of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

The kits have traditionally been tested by the county coroner's lab in Corryville, but officials said this week that the coroner's office has had to stop testing them for Cincinnati police and returned 74 kits to the police department. That's due to the large number of kits needing testing and a shortage of trained DNA analysts, according to Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco.

The office has a backlog of 566 DNA cases awaiting testing, about double what it was two years ago, Sammarco said.

"The number of cases they're getting in every month exceeded the number of cases we were able to complete every month," she said.

City Manager Harry Black wrote this week there could be "significant delays" in solving cases due to the change.

However, Sammarco estimated moving the rape kit tests to the state office would cut down the wait from four months to a few weeks.

"We know how important the work is in this office," Sammarco said. "The faster we can get answers to not only loved ones and the crime victims, but the law enforcement partners, they'll be able to get the criminals off the streets."

State investigators have asked police to limit their testing requests to 15 a week. Police have already been driving the tests to the state lab near Columbus, so just 44 remain awaiting testing. The kits sent back from the coroner date from April, May and June of this year.

Grace Cunningham has experienced the wait for DNA evidence personally. She's the founder of the group Students For Survivors and a survivor of sexual assault.

"Sadly, it doesn't surprise me," she said. "This is a problem amongst the nation, of having so many rape kits that aren't tested."

Cunningham said the evidence wasn't even used in her case because it hadn't been tested yet.

"My rape kit wasn't tested until two months after I went in front of the grand jury," she said.

Officials said testing at the BCI could take 21-25 days, or possibly less.

Cunningham said she's hopeful the kits will be processed faster.

"It's good news," she said. "The fact that they can have much less of a time period in between testing and get that evidence back."