County completes rape kit testing back to ’99
13 hits with FBI’s DNA index but none lead to prosecution
WAILUKU — Testing has been completed on more than 100 rape kits dating to 1999 in Maui County, which is the first in the state to meet requirements as part of the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative.
“We are completely caught up with the old cases,” First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rivera said last week. “We’re the first county in the state to have no untested kits.
“It just gives you peace of mind to know that we do not have kits that need to be tested.”
The testing of 105 sexual assault evidence collection kits, which were collected from 1999 to July 1, 2016, resulted in 13 hits in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS.
The hits indicated a matching DNA profile in the FBI criminal database, but “we were unable to proceed with prosecution on any of those,” Rivera said.
In some cases, the hit was for someone who already had been identified in a sexual assault investigation that didn’t go forward for other reasons, said police Detective Tony Krau. He said it may have been determined that sexual contact was consensual or a victim couldn’t be contacted by police.
Rivera said the statute of limitations for prosecution had lapsed in some cases.
Before 2015, the statute of limitations was six years for Class A felony offenses, three years for Class B and C felony offenses and two years for misdemeanor offenses.
For cases after 2015, there is no statute of limitations for first- and second-degree sexual assault and continuous sexual assault of the minor.
Some people have the misconception that an untested rape kit means the crime hasn’t been solved, Rivera and Krau said.
In most sexual assault cases, the victim knows who the offender is, Krau said.
“Very few sexual assaults in Hawaii have been committed by strangers,” he said. “So we know who the offender was.”
While the rape kit might confirm that, it wouldn’t necessarily help in prosecuting a case, he said.
“There’s a misconception among lay people that the rape kit is the end-all, be-all,” Rivera said. “There are so many variations into bringing justice to a victim who’s been sexually assaulted.
“The rape kit is one of the tools, but it is not the (only) tool. Oftentimes just by the police investigation, as well as working with our victims, we’re able to bring these cases to trial.”
By having the DNA profiles of offenders in CODIS, “it helps other jurisdictions in identifying possible serial rapists,” Rivera said.
Dani Riggs, clinical director of Child and Family Service, which runs the Maui Sexual Assault Center, said that while rape kits were originally meant to be used in prosecution, now the DNA profiles generated from the kits are being used to see if DNA might be linked to another case somewhere else.
“The whole reason for testing a kit has changed,” he said.
Riggs, Rivera, Krau and Ana Malafu, director of the Victim Witness Division of the Maui County Prosecutor’s office, are original members of the Maui County Sexual Assault Kit Initiative team, which has met monthly with members from other counties to address the issue of untested rape kits.
“One of the other positives is we developed more of a dialog statewide,” Riggs said.
Rivera said police departments statewide will be implementing a tracking system for sexual assault cases.
“It’s something they don’t have right now, but it’s being offered through this initiative,” Rivera said. “It’ll be the first of its kind in the state where all departments will be able to communicate with each other about sexual assault cases.
“We have had interisland offenders,” Rivera said.
The testing of the Maui County rape kits was done through the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative program led by the state Department of the Attorney General. The department was awarded a $2 million National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative grant last year from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance. In addition, the state Legislature appropriated another $500,000 to police departments as part of a law requiring inventories of the kits.
Krau, who was then assigned to investigate sexual assaults, took on the task of determining how many untested rape kits were stored at the Maui Police Department. That meant reviewing police reports beginning in 1999, when police started using the kits, and physically checking police evidence for the kits.
Detectives Derek Kaaukai and Oran Satterfield, who are also part of the MPD sex crime unit, and police evidence custodians helped in the search.
Krau developed a spreadsheet that was adopted by other departments to track the numbers of untested rape kits.
Of 166 Maui County cases where there were untested rape kits, 105 met the criteria for testing through the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, Rivera said.
Kits weren’t tested if an offender was already convicted and in CODIS, if complainants had filed written withdrawals of prosecution and if offenders were juveniles.
Rivera said it took little over a year to complete the testing, which involved having the kits tested at an accredited DNA laboratory, then undergoing secondary peer review before being returned.
In comparison to some large Mainland cities, where tens of thousands of kits had gone untested, the number of untested kits in Maui County averaged about five a year over the 17-year period, Rivera said.
In Maui County, 20 to 30 rape kits are collected each year in cases where victims make a report within about 120 hours of a sexual assault. Guidelines previously called for rape kits to be used if a sexual assault was reported within 72 hours, but the window has expanded based on recent advances in science, Rivera said.
Through the initiative, he said, guidelines were developed for sex offender notification to be done “in the most sensitive as well as effective way possible.”
Riggs said Maui County participants in the statewide initiative meetings also are members of the Maui Sexual Assault Response Team, which he described as “a strong working group dedicated to collaborating and giving the best results to our sexual assault victims.”
“The whole thing showed we didn’t drop the ball anywhere,” Krau said. “The system we had in place was working.”
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.