MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In wake of Eliza Fletcher’s kidnapping and murder in September, state representative Antonio Parkinson has introduced a bill requiring TBI to test rape kits within 30 days.
Governor Bill Lee has taken steps to expand hiring at the bureau’s forensic labs, but Parkinson says more needs to be done. Earlier this week, he told some of his colleagues in the house that they share some of the blame for Fletcher’s death.
“We as leaders in our state are partially to blame for the death of Eliza Fletcher and the delay in justice to all rape survivors. In 2014, we had the ability and the financial wherewithal to ensure that rape kits were turned around within 30 days, but we did not have the will to make it a priority. Nor the will to make the safety of our citizens a priority,” he said.
When explaining how the bill came about, Parkinson said, “In 2014, the bill passed through every committee, and it got to the finance committee where it was stalled and put behind the budget to die.”
Seven years later, Cleotha Abston was accused of raping Alicia Franklin. The DNA evidence was provided, but it took one year for it to be tested and turned back around to law enforcement. Parkinson says because that law was not turned around quicker, they are somewhat to blame for Fletcher’s murder.
“Our job is to protect our citizens,” said the lawmaker. “We are doing a terrible job because we chose not to make the bill a priority.”
The cost estimates for the bill are between $3.5 to $5 million per year. “We have $2 billion in the rainy day fund. and I”ll let that sit right there,” Parkinson added.
In response to some lawmakers feeling that the bill may hinder other investigations going on, Parkinson says, “We owe it to our women, children and victims of sexual assault and rape whose lives will forever be changed because of the incidents they’ve gone through.”
According to Parkinson, everything will balance out, as some months will have more rape kits than others. If needed, he believes the TBI should hire more people to ensure that all testing is done in a timely fashion.
Despite the bill passing through the sub-committee, Parkinson said he is still cautiously optimistic. “We still had two people vote against it. A lot of times, things that seem like they’re common sense at the legislature don’t actually turn out to be common sense to some of the members.”