FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Attorney General Andy Beshear sent $4.5 million to the Kentucky State Police Forensic Crime Laboratory in 2016, hoping the cash infusion would help reduce the eight-month gap between DNA kits connected to sexual assault cases being submitted by investigators and then being tested.
By October 2018, however, a WCPO I-Team investigation revealed the shortest average timeframe for processing each of its 2,260 pending DNA criminal cases, which include murder and assaults, still clocked in at six to eight months. The longest, including some rape kits, were projected by the lab's director to spend up to 15 months in limbo.
Beshear said he was "unaware" some DNA testing was taking up to 15 months. He wants to know why.
"I think it's unacceptable," he said. "We absolutely have to do better. Part of the commitment that we made in addressing the historic backlog was that we've got to change culture moving forward."
In a letter dated Oct. 8 and signed by Assistant Attorney General Michael Wright and the state Office of Victims Advocacy, Beshear's office requested a full accounting of the $4.5 million the lab received in 2016. Beshear said the request is the result of the I-Team investigation.
"Given the significant financial and staff resources both our offices have expended in order for the Crime Lab to reduce and eliminate future delays in testings, and to comply with the SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence) Act, many questions are raised," the letter reads in part.
Read the full letter below:
According to laboratory director Laura Sudkamp, the effort to bring test times down to an average of 90 days -- the span mandated by a 2016 Kentucky law called the SAFE Act -- stumbled over obstacles including high employee turnover, low salary offerings and an influx of DNA cases from police departments across the state.
Although she said she feels the lab has made significant progress and will likely meet the 90-day target by January 2019, the comparatively low pay offered in Kentucky makes it difficult for her office to attract or retain workers. Some spots on her staff remain vacant.
These aren't new problems, and the $4.5 million was meant to help the lab deal with them, Beshear said.
"The request was that the crime lab received $4.5 million and were able to hire new people, train them and buy more equipment," he said.
If money is indeed still the issue separating victims of crime from timely testing of DNA kits, he added he would take steps to resolve it in the next state budget.
"At the end of the day, we've got to make the sacrifice as a state to put resources in to ensure that we get people justice," he said.
Beshear also said he did not believe the previous funding had been misspent -- simply that it would be helpful to receive a detailed breakdown of its use that could guide future actions and investment. The end goal, he continued, is rapid change.
"No one who is a victim of a violent crime should have to deal with bureaucracy," he said.
Nineteen percent -- 425 -- of the pending cases at the crime lab are related to reported sexual assaults. Tracie Jackson, who said she approached the I-Team hoping to advocate for victims like herself, said the projected 15-month wait for results keeps her from being able to put the incident behind her. It also means the criminal case against the man she said attacked her can't move forward.
"They're re-victimizing people," she said. "This is harder. It makes it a lot harder to move on and get through what happened when you have no answers."
Beshear said it could be a few weeks before the crime lab responds with a report outlining how it spent the money.