VOL. 128 | NO. 253 | Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Rape Kit Backlog Triggers Calls for Change
By Bill Dries
As the Memphis Police Department backlog of rape kits moves into federal court with the new year, there will be another attempt to change Tennessee laws to delay the statute of limitations in rape cases to start running when rape kits are processed.
And a Memphis rape victim whose rape kit wasn’t tested for 10 years will be in Nashville pressing for the change.
More than 12,000 rape kits left untested by Memphis police investigators for 30 years will remain a law enforcement issue into the new year. That includes state legislative proposals that may delay the start of the statute of limitations on rape charges until a rape kit is tested.
(Daily News File Photo)
“If this exception had existed at the time that I was raped – regardless of the time it took law enforcement to try to solve the case, when they did test the evidence and found DNA, that would start the time ticking,” said Meaghan Ybos, who was a teenage victim of Anthony Alliano, the man known as the Cordova rapist. Ybos was raped in 2003.
While news organizations normally do not identify sexual assault and rape victims by name, Ybos has come forward and specifically requested that her name be used.
“We never heard back from the police after I reported it. My family and I were so traumatized that we didn’t pursue it,” Ybos said. “We just kind of trusted them to use the evidence they had collected. … When they took me to the Rape Crisis Center, they definitely represented that whatever they found could be used to find the rapist.”
In Ybos’ case, testing the rape kit was of incalculable value. Her attacker wore a mask. She never saw his face.
Ybos later went to law school and worked at the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office while in law school in 2010.
When Ybos learned in April 2012 of similar attacks in Cordova being attributed to a serial rapist, she demanded that police investigators reopen her still-unsolved case.
That led investigators to Alliano, who in March was sentenced to 178 years in prison after pleading guilty to a series of rapes.
Ybos says it also led to another revelation when she pushed police investigators.
“They did not solve my case,” she said. “I called them and I asked them to reopen my case. … At that point, they reopened my cold case. I had kind of assumed through the years that they had just not been able to find any DNA from that test. Then the investigator said, ‘We’re going to send this off to Nashville.’ I said, ‘What do you mean send it off to Nashville?’ – and then at that point I found out.”
That was also when Ybos used her law school training to start looking into DNA testing delays and the Tennessee statute of limitations on rape cases, which hits the maximum at around 15 years, depending on the specific charge.
She drafted some language for a bill based on laws in other states.
“The prosecution for my rapist was still undergoing at that point, and I couldn’t be as active as I would have liked to be,” Ybos said of the 2013 effort in Nashville. “It just didn’t go anywhere.”
She will be more active in the coming legislative session. The environment surrounding the legislation will likely be different now that Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong has acknowledged an estimated 12,000 rape kits taken by third-party agencies for Memphis police over a period of three decades were never tested or processed.
Other proposals are expected in the Legislature’s hopper in 2014 that would seek to establish a time limit for police agencies to test and have results from rape kits.
And more answers about why the rape kits weren’t tested are likely to emerge in 2014 with a lawsuit against the city of Memphis filed in December in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee.
The Jane Doe lawsuit filed against the city of Memphis Dec. 19 is from an unidentified woman who was sexually assaulted numerous times in a March 2001 attack in her home by an intruder who kicked in her bedroom window as her children slept in the next room.
The night of the attack, she was taken to the Rape Crisis Center, where medical personnel took body fluid samples and put them into a Memphis Police Department rape kit as evidence for further testing and processing.
Nothing was done with the rape kit for the next 13 years, according to the lawsuit, to which the city has not yet responded.
The details are so similar to Ybos’ case in some aspects that Ybos felt compelled to say she is not the plaintiff in the lawsuit.