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Attorney General Stein’s April Column: We’ve Ended North Carolina’s Sexual Assault Kit Backlog.

April 2024

This month, my office announced a milestone that has been more than six years in the making: North Carolina has ended the backlog of older sexual assault kits. This achievement is a testament to the hard work, dedication, and collaboration of so many people. Survivors and victim advocates, law enforcement agencies, the scientists and administrators at the State Crime Lab, legislators in the General Assembly of both parties, officers and detectives, and district attorneys.

In 2019, my office finished an inventory of untested rape kits, and tragically, we learned that there were more than 16,000 sitting on local law enforcement shelves – more than any other state in the nation.

That number was unacceptable, because each one of those thousands of kits came from a person, and each one of these survivors deserves justice. We promised that we would act to test these kits and get justice for victims.

My office, including the State Crime Lab, created a plan to attack the backlog and test these old kits. And as of this month, we’ve completed testing these kits and ended the backlog.

By moving these kits forward, we’ve seen real progress: we’ve now added more than 5,000 DNA samples to the CODIS DNA database. Those submissions have resulted in about 2,700 hits in the database, and those hits have led to at least 114 arrests so far. And we know that these arrests are connected to many more than 114 cases, because so many rapists are serial offenders.

Today, there are sexual assault survivors here in North Carolina who are finally getting to experience the feeling of justice years and decades later. In 1990, a woman we’ll call Mary left a baseball game and went to her car. A man got in the car with her and held her at knifepoint, forcing her to drive to different locations around Durham as he assaulted her multiple times. She escaped by pretending to have a medical emergency. Mary reported her rape and officials collected a rape kit. Durham submitted that rape kit in 2021, and the CODIS database found a hit to Samuel Harris in 2023. Harris was arrested and charged in June, and he pleaded guilty to second-degree rape and second-degree sexual offense. He’ll spend 30 years in prison. We know that as law enforcement pursues more of these leads, they will solve more cold cases. We’re going to keep getting justice for victims after a horrific moment in their lives.

We’re also making sure another backlog of kits never builds up again in North Carolina. Now, each kit comes with a barcode so prosecutors, law enforcement, and especially victims can track the status of their kit.

There is more work ahead, more opportunities to seek justice, but at every step, we are sending clear messages: to survivors, we support you and will fight to deliver justice on your behalf. To offenders, no matter how long it takes, we’re going to hold you accountable. And to all North Carolinians, we’re going to keep you and your families safe.