700 rape kits waiting to be tested in Amarillo

Amarillo police have more than 700 rape kits they are waiting to have tested under a state law aimed at reducing similar backlogs across the state.

At least some of those kits come from open investigation where prosecutors could use DNA evidence linking a suspect to the case, the Amarillo Globe-News reported on Sunday.

Police said they've long waited to send kits to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which received $11 million in state funding two years ago to accelerate rape-kit testing.

DPS contacted Amarillo police in January to start the process of testing kits after receiving an inquiry from the newspaper. Amarillo police have now sent 50 packages to a Virginia lab contracting with the state and hope to eventually have more than 550 tested.

According to state and local figures, Amarillo has the fifth-largest backlog of rape kits, which include examinations and other forensic evidence from which an attacker's DNA can sometimes be found. DPS has previously estimated there are as many as 18,000 untested rape kits statewide.

Forensic evidence is particularly important in prosecuting rape cases, especially because jurors who have seen crime procedurals or read crime stories often expect to have DNA evidence.

"They're all going to expect us either to provide scientific evidence to corroborate the other evidence or have a reasonable expectation for why it isn't available in this particular case," said James Farren, the district attorney in Randall County.

DPS said the process of testing was underway and would be fully completed by next year.

Most of the old evidence in storage is not expected to yield new charges. In Houston, where the backlog of rape kits received national attention, police say they have now processed more than 6,500 rape kits, leading to about 20 new charges.

"Those decisions are secondary right now to the fact that a backlog amassed over the years where science existed to be able to do testing ... so that's got to be the focus," said Houston Assistant Chief Matt Slinkard. "We're at a place where sexual assault kits that are collected need to be tested. That needs to happen right now."