MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Pertinent evidence in thousands of rape cases sat in storage for decades allowing violent criminals to walk free and strike again.
Memphis police are still trying to find hundreds of suspects, but the city council stopped wanting to hear about their progress. Until last week.
The Memphis Police Department gave the the city council an update last week, stating it continues to sift through the results of thousands of sexual assault kits.
WREG first told you about that evidence in 2010. We discovered critical evidence from rape cases dating back several decades had been stuffed into a storage closets at MPD. They were never analyzed for DNA.
MPD said detectives are currently working 567 active cases after getting all of the rape kit results back. They’ve already indicted 422 rapists identified by DNA only. Their names aren’t known.
MPD also reports out of the more than 12,000 kits, 300 suspects were found and charged. Fifty-one of them raped multiple victims. So far, 141 have been convicted or pleaded guilty.
That’s information the council and public may have never known if the update wasn’t requested by Councilman Chase Carlisle.
“We have not been doing those on a regular basis since I’ve been on the body, we’ve had a few,” he told WREG.
He said he requested the update after recent headlines. Alicia Franklin was raped in September of last year. She wanted her name out there and wanted it known her rape kit wasn’t processed for months.
Her accused attacker, Cleotha Abston-Henderston, went on to reportedly kidnap and kill Eliza Fletcher while she was on her morning jog last month. The day her body was found was the day the TBI said the DNA from the Franklin’s rape kit was entered into the system and matched Abston Henderson’s.
“It wasn’t until this issue arose with Cleotha Abston-Henderson, that we realized there are still issues with the processing times. That’s why we are going to make sure we turn our attention to it now,” Carlisle said.
But there were warning signs flagged by WREG Investigators. In 2019, a woman told us she waited nearly a year to get her results back from her rape kit.
Then in 2021, the TBI reiterated the long turnaround times weren’t getting any better even though they moved into a bigger lab.
The council stopped asking about the rape kits in April 2019. Council members said they no longer needed the monthly updates from MPD.
“The council decided they don’t need monthly reports, after they were sure for a few years the momentum of lab work was underway,” said Deborah Clubb in a 2019 interview. She’s on the task force overseeing the backlog.
After our coverage, the council vowed to bring the updates back quarterly. In March 2020, they got the first update in more than a year and learned the total of kits in the backlog had gone up due to human error and kits they thought belonged to the state.
The headline Councilman Worth Morgan had later stressed to us was that children’s kits were in the backlog.
“You never want to hear and see those numbers, but it’s a necessary part of making sure that evil doesn’t happen to anyone in the future,” he said.
WREG Investigators requested the info MPD provided to the council last week in an open records request a few weeks ago. We’re still waiting to hear back.
MPD’s briefing only took two and a half minutes, and Carlisle was the only one to ask questions. But it was the latest information the public has received in quite some time.