In 2015, Oregon State Police released an audit that found 4,700 rape kits had not been tested. The Portland Police Bureau possessed more than half of them.
That same year, the Multnomah County district attorney received a $2 million grant to test rape kits in Marion, Multnomah and Lane counties. Kits from 2014 and earlier were tested at a forensic lab in Utah.
In 2016, the Oregon Legislature passed “Melissa’s Law” — named for Melissa Bitler, a 14-year-old who was raped and murdered in 2001 — and helped expose the backlog of thousands of tests. The legislation required law enforcement agencies to develop their own policies for how to process untested sexual assault kits. It also added staff and resources at the state crime lab to process the kits.
“Statewide we’re at full submission,” said Amity Girt, Multnomah County deputy district attorney who oversees sex crimes convictions. “Everyone hopes that there won’t be another backlog.”
By testing backlogged kits for DNA, prosecutors in Multnomah County won four convictions. Testing also has resulted in two additional indictments. Prosecutors in Lane County also won a conviction related to the testing.
“We would anticipate there would be future indictments,” Girt said. “It’s going to continue to be a process.”
Kits sent to Utah were mostly tested for male DNA on evidence, including underwear. Results ranged from no DNA to strong samples.
“Say they do get good results, that data goes to the OSP Forensic Laboratory,” Susan Hormann, a former DNA supervisor at OSP’s lab who was hired by Multnomah County to help clear the backlog, said in an interview last year.
From there, the data was entered into the FBI’s national DNA database.
“They’re able to search this evidence profile that we have from this sexual assault kit against all the offenders across the United States and all the evidence profiles across the United States,” Hormann said.
The hope is that the new evidence matches evidence from another case or a known offender.
Though thousands of kits have been tested in Oregon, most didn’t provide useful information or include any DNA evidence.
Still, others have resulted in several hundred new entries into the FBI’s DNA database and more than 100 matches to evidence in other cases or to other known offenders.