West Virginia is making major progress with the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, dusting off decades old cases, and providing long-awaited justice for victims of sexual assault and other crimes.
Thursday, the West Virginia Division of Justice and Community Services announced the state is on track to finish testing the thousands of inventoried sexual assault evidence kits. The effort began after receiving funding in 2015 from the national Sexual Assault Kit Initiative.
Jeff Shumate, special investigator with the Raleigh County Prosecutor’s office, said, “The initial initiative identified those kits and then local law enforcement ensured that those kits were submitted to the lab to be tested, attempting to identify any DNA evidence.”
About 300 DNA profiles have since been added to the Combined DNA Index System. CODIS is a DNA database where DNA information is stored and shared among law enforcement agencies across the country.
Now, more than 100 of those entries came back with hits, meaning they matched an offender or evidence collected in another crime. Shumate said at least six of those hits came back in Raleigh County cases.
“As DNA progresses, it becomes a very vital tool to be used in the criminal justice investigations,” Shumate said.
In West Virginia, nearly 2,400 kits were inventoried over the years, and remained in hospitals or law enforcement offices without being tested. Shumate said that has to do with the DNA testing available at the time.
“The testing today is a whole lot more efficient, you can actually test with less evidence, and there’s a lot of factors that changed that allow us to be successful in DNA testing today,” Shumate said.
He said DNA evidence from these kits can make or break a case.
“Sometimes it can mean the difference between a case being prosecuted and not being prosecuted,” Shumate said.