JACKSON — A new law will require an annual report of all untested rape kits in Wyoming and forbid agencies from destroying such evidence without a proper order.
Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, who sponsored the bill, said it’s a big step toward reforming how the state handles evidence in rape cases.
“We want victims who are willing to go through the intrusive process to know that their kit will be tracked and not be destroyed,” Ellis said. Rape kits, which preserve DNA evidence, often sit untested on shelves in police evidence storage areas, leaving sexual assault cases unsolved.
Though the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation says more rape kits are being tested every year at Wyoming’s state crime lab, it’s unknown how many kits have gone untested.
Ellis said a Teton County rape case was one of the motivations behind the bill.
Donald Pack, a convicted serial rapist, was sent back to prison in February 2018 after DNA evidence was discovered by accident when a special agent was searching the Jackson Police Department’s evidence storage for clues in a missing person’s case.
Pack’s DNA was in the state system because he had been sentenced in 1976 for a separate rape. The surprise DNA, which was discovered in 2015, linked Pack to unsolved rapes he committed in Jackson in 1974 and ’75. He was sentenced to another eight to 12 years in prison for the assaults, 44 years after he committed the crimes.
Senate File 74 will require law enforcement agencies to report to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation all cases in which sexual assault biological evidence is gathered.
DCI will then compile an annual statistical report of the information, and technicians there will keep track of analyses. The bill will also require the victim services division of the attorney general’s office to pay the costs of sexual assault examinations.
Ellis said that will streamline the costs of the exams, because as it stands local agencies or county attorneys foot the bill if a victim reports a crime immediately. If they make a cold report later, the state pays for it.
“There’s confusion there,” Ellis said. “And if local agencies are strapped tight maybe they won’t encourage victims to report.”
The exams can cost between $500 and $4,000, Ellis said.
“There is a lot of disparity between counties,” she said.
In Teton County sexual assault examinations range from $940 to $1,695, according to St. John’s Medical Center.
By Emily Mieure
Jackson Hole News&Guide Via Wyoming News Exchange