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Editorial: ABQ delivers on vow to clear rape-kit backlog

A decades-long backlog of untested rape kits in the Albuquerque area is no more. Finally, a bit of justice for some – and a system in place to ensure this never happens again. And that’s important because many of the cases involving the kits that languished for years will never see justice (the statute of limitations has expired, victims died or decided to not proceed with charges, no suspect was identified, etc.)

The backlog came to light around four years ago, when Mayor Tim Keller was state auditor. After learning of the backlog, his team dug in and issued a report on the 5,400 or so untested rape kits across the state – 75% from Albuquerque. Then-Mayor Richard Berry got two grants to start testing the kits and now, under Keller, the backlog is gone.

The monumental effort to clear almost 5,000 rape kits was more than just the right thing to do. Albuquerque Police Department Chief Harold Medina says the backlog built up because of insufficient funding, inadequate technology and a history of testing kits only as requested by the District Attorney’s Office. While he has pledged “we cannot and will not let this happen again,” it is sickening to see prior disregard for sexual violence and to know, in some cases, alleged serial rapists committed more attacks while kits that would have identified them and their crimes went untested.

But, today, the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office says 408 of the backlog cases have qualified for advanced screening and possible prosecution. Forty-four people have been charged, 13 have been convicted, 15 are awaiting trial and another 13 suspects have warrants out for their arrest. APD’s Scientific Evidence Division says more than 1,000 DNA profiles of the more than 4,000 tested kits were eligible to be entered into CODIS, the federal database, and 518 of those came back with a DNA match; APD and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office have been alerted.

Keller is right, clearing the rape kit backlog is a “difficult celebration.” But it is one that could result in justice for some victims and even possibly prevent future victims by getting serial attackers off the streets.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.