Rape victim: Backlog putting lives at risk

mmasferrer@bradenton.comOctober 8, 2009 

Kellie Greene can identify with any victims of Delmer Smith III, because their paths might never have crossed with the ex-convict if his DNA had been entered into a national database immediately after federal prison officials collected it in March 2008.

In January 1994, Greene was beaten and raped in her Orlando apartment.

After a suspect was arrested almost three years later, thanks to a DNA match, Greene learned that David Shaw had raped another woman six weeks prior to her attack. DNA evidence had been collected in that case, but it sat untested for two years because at the time, rape kit evidence was not tested if police didn’t already have a named suspect.

Greene believes she might not have been raped if there had not been a lag in testing evidence from the first case.

Greene has spoken out about the DNA backlog as director of Orlando-based Speaking Out Against Rape Inc., or SOAR, an advocacy group she founded for rape survivors.

Greene learned of the Smith case when contacted by the Bradenton Herald on Wednesday. She said efforts to address testing backlogs have suffered because of budgetary constraints.

With unanimous votes in both the House and Senate, Congress last year passed and President George W. Bush signed legislation that reauthorized a grant program under which the U.S. Justice Department assists state and local crime labs in processing and recording DNA evidence. The legislation authorized spending $755 million over five years.

However, up to now, according to Greene, government has failed to spend what it takes to solve the problem.

“It doesn’t surprise me there was a backlog with the FBI,” Greene said. “When legislators pass these types of new laws ... it always creates a backlog because they never fully fund it.”

Greene urged people to pressure lawmakers to provide the funding needed to slash the backlogs in DNA testing. As long as the problem remains, the costs — whether in insurance claims filed by victims, in police hours needed to investigate serial criminals, or in lives injured and lost — will only mount.

“It’s public safety, and it’s lives at stake,” Greene said. “It’s a shame that it takes people being raped and murdered for something like this to come to light.”

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