Evidence collected during sexual assault exams of 11 young patients at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta hospital has been matched to men now in prison or DNA collected in unsolved cases, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
The GBI's Division of Forensic Science, aka the state crime lab, on Thursday completed testing of all 218 rape kits it picked up from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta last summer because law enforcement had not retrieved the evidence to be processed.
Scientists found enough DNA to develop a profile in 36 of the kits and add the information to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a national database that law enforcement agencies nationwide can access.
Out of the 11 rape kits that resulted in CODIS hits, three matched evidence collected at still-unsolved cases and eight matched men who are in prison.
Also, crime lab testing of old cases matched DNA evidence that Hughes Spalding Hospital collected years ago in exams of 13 girls (some of them teens) at a time when the medical facility was part of Grady Memorial Hospital. Those 13 rape kits were among 1,351 found stored and untested at Grady Memorial in 2015.
In total, evidence retrieved during rape exams of 24 children has matched profiles in CODIS. None of those 24 cases have been prosecuted so far.
“What this tells me is there was a legitimate basis for these children being examined for sexual assault,” GBI Director Vernon Keenan said.
While the GBI is using an outside lab to process other old rape kits, Keenan said state scientists analyzed evidence collected by Children’s Healthcare “so we could speed up the process.”
Those findings have been sent to local law enforcement to be pursued, so “they don’t further fall through the cracks,” Keenan said.
"I'm glad they moved swiftly," said state Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, who along with state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, was behind the 2016 law that set deadlines for when rape kits must be sent to the state's forensic lab. "I'm glad we now have the data."
Holcomb said he wanted to ensure the State Board of Pardons and Paroles knows of DNA matches to men already in prison for other crimes so that can be factored “into any decision about the length of incarceration.”
The rape kits from Children's Healthcare is only a fraction of the DNA evidence packages the state is working. The GBI has a backlog of more than 9,000, many of them years-old evidence packages that police agencies only recently sent to the state.
“Now we’ve got all the other rape kits” to analyze, Keenan said of the rest of the backlog.
The law adopted last year was prompted by the 2015 discovery at Grady.
Because the new law set deadlines for law enforcement agencies statewide to send rape kits to the crime lab, the GBI received an additional 2,905 previously "unsubmitted" DNA evidence packages last summer.
According to the lab, the backlog also now includes:
» 876 Grady rape kits that remain out of the original batch;
» 1,983 current cases that were in the lab when this year started;
» 4,533 sexual assault kits from crimes prior to 1999 that had not been processed because the technology did not exist at the time.
A private lab under contract to process old rape kits can only take 50 at a time. The state’s scientists are focusing on the newer cases, Keenan said.