Backlogs: More resources needed to test evidence kits

Two men indicted in Cleveland this week might have escaped justice but for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s effort, launched a few years ago, to devote more resources to analysis of thousands of “rape kits” that had sat on law enforcement shelves for years, even decades.

The two men are accused of raping a 16-year-old girl — in 1998. The prosecutor credits the ongoing program of DNA testing of old rape kits for identifying the culprits.

Meanwhile, West Virginia’s crime lab is no less overloaded. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has been able to give some of the money from health-care-related court settlements to the West Virginia State Police to help them get caught up. This effort includes the DNA labs, but also the drug and toxicology labs.

Here in the Mountain State, prosecutors have been stymied by the six months to a year it takes to get results back on drug cases. Morrisey says local prosecutors have told him the crime lab backlog is the biggest problem they face in pursuing these cases. And, of course, the longer it takes to get lab results, the longer some suspects spend as inmates, driving up our regional jail bills.

DeWine’s program has cleared other cases, and has made much progress in investigating sexual assaults many years ago. Morrisey’s funneling of resources to the crime lab could ensure speedier trials and more victories in the fight against the substance abuse epidemic. All involved in the projects should keep up the pressure on violent predators who may well have thought they had escaped justice; and drug offenders hoping the lack of a speedy trial will help them slip through the cracks, too.