New DNA lab works to alleviate sexual assault kit backlog, solve cases faster
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - For years across North Carolina, sexual assault cases have been stalled.
This is, in part, because of the massive backlog of untested sexual assault and rape kits.
Thousands of people, years later, are still awaiting results that could not only bring closure but lead to convictions and arrests.
StarMed’s new DNA lab, originally used to test COVID samples, is now uniquely aimed at alleviating this backlog and testing cases that fall to the wayside, like cold cases and backlogged sexual assault kits.
“You don’t realize how people feel during that waiting time like, sometimes they never know and if they don’t get that closure they might think about it the rest of their life,” said the lab manager, Jessica Phillips.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein says it was a shock to find out in 2017 and confirm in 2019, state data showed over 15,000 untested sexual assault and rape kits.
“Which was more than any other state in the country,” said Stein.
He told WBTV, with a new tracking system, involvement from private labs, and $18 million in state and federal funding, came progress.
“When we go after these old kits and test them, we solve cold cases, and dangerous people are being put behind bars, and victims are seeing justice,” he said.
He added while nearly 82% of the backlog has been alleviated, there are at least 2,000 more cases to go.
Private labs like StarMed’s, set to be operational in June, are meant to help.
“I came here to help with the backlog across the nation, so we’re all really passionate about it,” said Nicole Stickle, the DNA technical leader for the new lab.
“We want to help people, we want to give people closure and help solve these crimes.”
Stickle added while state labs have a heavy focus on violent crime, private labs like this one can pick up the slack.
Their goal, she said, is to test cases within 60 days, compare DNA samples to those in the FBI database, and spur action in the courtroom and beyond.
“To help somebody not wait years to find out an answer to a question, I feel like, is a big step in helping,” said Phillips.
State officials like Stein are hopeful there won’t be a backlog by this time next year.
Stein added there have already been well over 100 arrests thanks to these efforts.
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