California bill calls for evidence in unsolved, neglected rape cases to get attention

By Malaika Fraley Oakland Tribune (01/21/2014 04:08:10 PM PST)

OAKLAND — After being drugged and raped at Bay to Breakers in 2010, San Francisco resident Heather Marlowe was told it would take about two weeks for the DNA evidence collected from her body to be tested against a database of criminals’ DNA profiles.

Instead, it took two and a half years, and only then because of a lot of persistence on her own behalf, the 32-year-old playwright said Tuesday at a news conference to support proposed legislation that would require DNA evidence collected in sexual assault investigations to be tested in a timely manner.

Assemblymembers Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, and Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley say Assembly Bill 1517 would give the resources to vanquish the backlog of untested rape kits collecting dust in evidence rooms to provide justice to survivors of sexual assault.

“It’s an affront to our justice system, to these victims, that this evidence is being left on a shelf,” said Bonta, who co-authored the bill with Skinner.

The number of untested rape kits in California is unknown because there has never been an audit. O’Malley has counted 1,900 untested rape kits in Alameda County alone and has secured nonprofit funding to get them tested in a process she hopes will serve as a blueprint for other communities.

“We are not going to tolerate there having a backlog of which we don’t even know yet statewide,” said Skinner, adding that the ongoing failure of law enforcement agencies to test all rape kits puts the public at risk of assailants looking to reoffend.

The proposed legislation calls for rape kits to be submitted to crime labs within five days, and for labs to test and upload results into a national Combined DNA Index database of felon DNA profiles within 30 days. It would also require police to notify victims if their rape kits are not being tested. DNA profiles created in cases where the assailant is known to the victim would be added to the database as well.

Similar bills have been vetoed by state governors before in recent years, but Skinner says that today, with an improved financial climate and new evidence showing the effectiveness of backlog testing in places like New York City, the timing is right.

Marlowe wonders if her rape would have been solved by now if such a law was already in place to prevent her rape kit to be tested years after the fact.

“Was the evidence collected from me disintegrating in a property room somewhere?” she said.

Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at