KWWL Exclusive: DCI officials explain rape kit processing - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

KWWL Exclusive: DCI officials explain rape kit processing

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ANKENY (KWWL) - Earlier this month, KWWL broke the story about a reported rape inside New Hampton High School.

According to her attorney, the 17-year-old student was sodomized and raped inside the boys' locker room at the high school in March.

New Hampton Police confirm a rape kit was sent to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) Crime lab in Ankeny, but that they still haven't received the results.

As of last month, officials at DCI report 361 DNA cases on backlog. Some of those, according to criminalists at DCI, are rape kits.

Statistics obtained from DCI also show 255 of those DNA cases on backlog are older than 30 days, and that the average turnaround time on cases closed in April was 74 days.

Criminalists said they're doing the best they can with the resources and procedures they have, and that a lot of these cases just take time.

"We are very busy, yes. There's always something to do," said DCI Criminalist Scott Stocksleger.

Stocksleger processes pieces of evidence from all kinds of crimes everyday, including rape kits submitted by law enforcement agencies from all over the state.

According to DCI officials, criminalists process on average 355 sex assault kits every year.

Criminalists said sex assault kits are fairly standard across the state.

"Typically that includes swabs where we believe there might be suspect evidence on the victim, whether it be a breast swab where maybe the suspect bit or licked the victim's breast; vaginal swabs; rectal swabs; oral swabs; any of those areas where we believe there could be suspect's DNA on the victim," said Iowa DCI Crime Lab Criminalist Supervisor Paul Bush.

Bush said it's a lengthy, complex process to identify DNA.

He said they'll typically get a case summary sheet from the law enforcement agency that helps pinpoint and/or triage what specific items of evidence they want to look at in order to solve a crime.

Bush said the criminalists use that information to identify biological stains like blood, semen or saliva. 

Then, according to Bush, the criminalists cut out the DNA, extract it, quantify it and use what's called a "PCR Amplification Process" to make millions of copies of the DNA.

"This is the real power of the DNA process in that you can start out with theoretically a single copy of that DNA and, through about 30 cycles, we've got between a million and a billion times more of that target DNA than we started with," said Bush.

Iowa DCI Laboratory Administrator Bruce Reeve said the process takes time.

He said that, unless there is a public threat or court order, rape kits are processed on a first-come, first-served basis.

"Some people might not understand that with regard to one specific case, but you have to realize that if you prioritize one case, you are de-prioritizing other cases," said Reeve.

"It cannot be done in a day. It takes days to weeks to months," said Bush, adding that results often hinge on how much evidence they have to work with.

DCI criminalists admit they'd like to see the backlog at zero, but that they have the necessary checks and balances in place to make sure the results are accurate.

"The most important thing at the crime laboratory is to make sure the results are accurate and right," said Reeve. "So we're not rushing through analyses. We may prioritize analyses based on the needs for public safety or for the court requirements, but we do not rush through the analyses. We take the time that's required to do the job right."

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