DNA matches also backlogged in state

NEW ORLEANS -- Louisiana's first attempt to get a handle on how many untested sexual assault kits are in the state resulted in an incomplete inventory of them, as a WWL-TV investigation first revealed last week. But in addition to the backlogged kits, the DNA matches to people with profiles in the national DNA database also are often backlogged.

"I think after about a year that it happened that I kinda had come to the resolve that it was something that I may just have to live with the rest of my life not knowing," Wendy Guidry said.

She was brutally raped in Lake Charles in 1992 by an unknown man in a ski mask. Despite the trauma of the attack, she allowed doctors to examine her for hours, performing a sexual assault exam.

"The whole process, the rape kit, it re-victimizes you all over again," Guidry said.

Her sexual assault kit, which held all the evidence taken from her body, sat untouched for two decades.

Three years ago, a curious Lake Charles Police detective ran the DNA found in Guidry's kit through the national database of DNA profiles called CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) and immediately got a hit. It belonged to a man named Darwin Hutchinson, who was already serving time in Angola for raping another woman seven years after Guidry's attack.

"I told the cops 23 years ago that I knew I wasn't his first. And over the years, I thought a lot about how I hoped I was his last, but I knew if they didn't catch him, I knew I wouldn't be," and she was right.

The Louisiana State Police Crime Lab is the place where all the DNA work is done for the New Orleans Police Department and other law enforcement agencies around the state that need DNA testing but don't have their own labs.

"That number has increased dramatically in 2015. We're receiving probably 60 percent more sexual assaults statewide," said Joanie Brocato, DNA director for the lab.

At the lab, a room full of non-descript desktop computers serves as the entry way to the national DNA database. Adding new profiles to it to try and catch rapists is one of the many reasons victim advocacy groups across the country are pushing to test all the sexual assault kits that are part of the nation's backlog.

"We generate close to 1,000 CODIS hits a year," Brocato said.

New Orleans police used CODIS to identify a 13-year-old boy who they say lured a 7-year-old and an 8-year-old girl behind two separate New Orleans East apartment complexes and raped them. His profile was already in the database for an arrest or conviction for another crime.

"There's over 500,000 samples in the Louisiana alone in the CODIS database," Brocato said.

But the CODIS hits alone can't put rapists behind bars. Detectives have to follow up on them to prove a crime was committed. At the time of publication, the NOPD had 183 CODIS hits, for everything from burglaries to rapes to murders, waiting to be investigated.

About 20 of them were matches to suspects already serving time in prison, but the rest were still out on the streets.

"I think I cried for months after finding out about the match, I think I cried even more for those women than I did for myself. Because I had done everything I could've done to cooperate to catch him and he still went on to rape other women," Guidry said.

In recent years, the NOPD got a new computer system to help track the CODIS hits. It helped them cut the backlog of hits in half.

"Right now we have six detectives assigned to that sex crimes unit," said Mary Claire Landry, the director of the Family Justice Center in New Orleans. "We think that number should be around 24."

In early July, the NOPD added two more detectives to the unit bringing the number to eight.

"I never wanted anybody to go through what I went through," Guidry said.

In the end, cases like Guidry's are ones that the CODIS system are supposed to prevent.

After recent problems with the way the NOPD sex crimes unit handled its cases revealed by the New Orleans inspector general, the city created a Sexual Assault Task Force. Their report on the NOPD's sex crimes unit is expected to be released in the coming days.


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