RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina politicians promised Tuesday to spend the $6 million needed to catch up on testing decades of ignored evidence collected from sexual assault victims, and also prevent the injustice from repeating by requiring investigators to test evidence quickly.
Attorney General Josh Stein and a bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a legislative proposal that would catch up on testing sexual assault kits stored and sometimes forgotten in local law enforcement custody. Investigators would be required to submit new samples for DNA testing within six weeks.
The promise of new legislation came a day before the General Assembly's two-year session opened Wednesday and a day after recent DNA testing led to a South Carolina man's arrest in a 31-year-old Fayetteville rape.
A Republican leader on criminal justice issues said he's confident lawmakers will take action soon.
"Funding will be provided. This is not a political football," Rep. Jamie Boies of Southern Pines said, adding the issue has support in the state House and Senate and from Gov. Roy Cooper's administration.
The proposal marks the state's latest move after concluding a year ago that there were more than 15,000 untested sexual assault kits lingering in police storage lockers around the state.
"Each one of these kits represents a personal tragedy, and each one of those victims deserves justice," Stein said.
Fayetteville Police Lt. John Somerindyke, the department's lead cold case investigator, said rapists who aren't caught have a high probability of committing the crime again, so finding and arresting them is crucial to public safety. About 20 women are raped each week in North Carolina, Stein said.
The General Assembly, at Stein's urging, last year mandated a system of tracking sexual assault evidence kits with bar codes to prevent them from getting lost. A newly created committee prioritized the order in which to test the neglected kits.
Stein used half of a $2 million federal grant announced last fall to test several hundred samples. He announced Tuesday that another $2 million from the Governor's Crime Commission would pay for private labs to test another 3,000 kits. That leaves the $6 million in taxpayer funding requested from legislators to catch up with the rest.
On Monday, Fayetteville police said Anthony Keith Grant, 52, of North Charleston, South Carolina was arrested and charged with raping a convenience store employee and robbing the business in 1987. The department has solved 37 rape cold cases, Somerindyke said.
Last fall, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said they'd arrested men in two cases, each about a quarter-century old, after DNA collected in rape kits were tested and matched against genetic databases.