MEMPHIS, Tenn. — While Tennessee’s governor says the state is going to get more staff at crime labs to help process rape kits, the impact won’t be immediate.
Gov. Bill Lee announced Thursday 25 new positions at state crime labs to help process critical evidence faster. It’s something the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which analyzes all of the evidence for violent, nonviolent, and sexual offenses has been begging for for quite some time.
Out of the 25 positions the governor announced, eight will be assigned to the Jackson lab, where Memphis and Shelby County send their evidence.
Six positions will go to Knoxville. Eleven will go to Nashville.
We asked the TBI how it chose to divvy out the positions. It says all labs are working to improve and said in the past its staffing has been “based upon total case submissions.”
Since July 2019, WREG found out the Nashville lab averages 78 total case submissions per month.
Knoxville averages 59 and Memphis averages 54.
We also uncovered it’s taken several months to a year to process rape kits at the Jackson lab. The turnaround times in Nashville and Knoxville are slightly better.
Law enforcement agencies can ask for rush testing, which means the evidence is prioritized and analyzed in a matter of days. Memphis Police did just that for Eliza Fletcher, the mother and teacher allegedly kidnapped and killed earlier this month by suspect Cleotha Abston-Henderson.
But in another case involving the same suspect, Alicia Franklin’s sexual assault kit wasn’t expedited.
Franklin wanted her name out there and wanted it known that her evidence was collected in September 2021, but wasn’t pulled off the shelf to be analyzed until the following June.
Her accused attacker went on to reportedly kidnap and kill Fletcher while she was on a morning jog. The day Fletcher’s body was found was the day the state says they matched him to the DNA found in Franklin’s rape kit.
We asked Memphis Police when they knew he was possibly Franklin’s attacker but they refused to answer, citing pending litigation.
The TBI said more personnel will help with turnaround times on these cases, but noted the position takes a certain person and can come with 18 months of training. They can hire experienced forensic scientists, but they added “current TBI compensation makes this difficult.”
The TBI posted the first round of positions it’s hiring — two will be in forensic biology, which processes rape kits. One will be assigned to the DNA database and another will be in firearms and tool mark identification unit.
If you’re interested, check the TBI website.