WASHINGTON, December 4 -
One of the most marvelous scientific breakthroughs in the criminal justice system has been DNA evidence. I remember when I was a judge in the courthouse when DNA started being used at the courtroom.
Prior to DNA, many times prosecutors and law enforcement had to rely on blood samples and fingerprints. But once DNA came in, we learned that everybody has a unique genetic makeup that can be tested and it can be traced to perpetrators of crime when they commit a crime, especially in sexual assault cases.
And convictions have gone up. The evidence is better. The proof beyond a reasonable doubt is much more concrete in DNA cases.
In 1985, there was a 13-year-old girl named Lavinia Masters. Lavinia lived in Dallas, Texas. One evening she told her folks good night. She went to her bedroom, which should be, Mr. Speaker, the safest place on Earth for children. Went to sleep, and during the middle of the night, she was woken up by an outlaw putting a knife to her throat. He sexually assaulted her. Then he snuck away in the darkness of the night.
That was in 1985. She went to the hospital. Her parents took care of her medical needs. DNA evidence was taken from her and put in a “rape kit.” It was given to the law enforcement authorities, but that DNA evidence from that sexual assault that night in 1985 was not tested for 20 years. It sat on the shelf in a crime lab somewhere in Dallas, Texas.
Because the Dallas Police Department had a new incentive to go and look at those old cases, this case was looked at 20 years later. That evidence was tested, and the Dallas Police Department discovered that Kevin Glen Turner had committed this crime back in 1985. But that was 20 years ago. The statute of limitations had run, and justice could not occur in Lavinia’s case because the system waited too long to find the outlaw.
Kevin Turner turned out to be a criminal in other cases and ended up in the penitentiary for those crimes, but justice was denied for Lavinia, denied because of bureaucratic red tape.
You see, Mr. Speaker, many rape kits sit on the shelves of evidence rooms across the country untested. Some of them sit there so long that they’re discarded by law enforcement, and the statute of limitations runs like it ran in Lavinia’s case.
She is not alone, Mr. Speaker. There are 400,000 untested rape kits in this country – 400,000, that’s a number; but every one of those represents a person. To try to put it in some perspective, there were a little over 400,000 Americans killed in World War II. They were killed by the enemies of our country. 400,000 primarily young women, have been assaulted by rapists who try to kill the soul of these victims, and it’s impotant that we not stop prosecuting these cases because of funding.
That’s why I’ve introduced, along with Congresswoman Maloney from New York, the bipartisan bill in the Senate by Senators Cornyn and Senator Bennet.
The SAFER Act does a lot of good things, but basically it allows funding to go to make sure that we test these cases. It audits these backlogs so that we know where these cases are that are sitting on the shelves. SO it does the audit. It gets more funding. It brings these cases to justice so that we can make sure that these victims of crime have their day in court as well.
DNA is a wonderful thing. It’s important that we make sure that that evidence is available for law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges in the courtroom.
She was a child. Lavinia was a child when she was sexually assaulted. That was a long time ago. But there are 400,000 cases waiting to be tested. This is something that we can do in a bipartisan way today, to test those cases so that we can bring justice to the victims of crime and make sure those outlaws get their day in court as well and be held accountable for the rape of children in our country.
And that’s just the way it is.