Rape kit test backlog gets congressional attention



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Posted on September 17, 2012 at 6:07 PM

Updated Monday, Sep 17 at 6:55 PM

FORT WORTH — Lavinia Masters lived with fear for two decades, wondering about the stranger who attacked her.

"It's a devastating thing to have to live with all these monsters who've haunted you all these years," she said.

Masters was raped at knifepoint in 1985 when she was just 13. She now believes the monster who haunted her is convicted felon Kevin Glen Turner.

In 2006, Dallas police finally tested Masters' rape kit, and DNA linked Turner to the crime.

"Unfortunately, I'm one of the ones whose kit sat on the shelf for 20 years," Masters says. 

That's why she's campaigning for a bill that would help clear the backlog of untested rape kits. It's estimated at 400,000 nationwide, but no one knows for sure.

"We can get this audit process underway and find out the true scope of the problem," said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R–Texas).  He is sponsoring the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry, or SAFER Act.  It would allocate millions of dollars for DNA testing.

Much of that testing would likely take place at the UNT Health Science Center DNA lab. That's where Cornyn met with Masters and DNA scientists. Officials say it costs nearly $1,000 to test each rape kit.

"I don't care if it's a million dollars a kit," Masters said. "You should not put a price on somebody's life."

Time is critical. 

The statute of limitations had already run out by the time Masters' alleged rapist was identified. He was already in prison for other crimes, including sexual assault. 

Kevin Turner is eligible for parole in November.  

Police officials say older rape kits go untested, in part, because of the sheer volume of cases.  Records show that Fort Worth receives about 1,000 new sexual assault reports each year.

Cornyn says the SAFER act has bipartisan support in congress. 

State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) authored a Texas law addressing the backlog of untested kits. Davis also met with Masters on Monday and thanked her for her work to keep the issue in the public eye.

Email jdouglas@wfaa.com