MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel's efforts to analyze thousands of untested sexual assault kits generated a score of DNA hits during the last half of 2017, according to data the Wisconsin Justice Department submitted to the federal government.
A report DOJ submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance in January shows testing has yielded DNA profiles that match 20 known offenders in the FBI's CODIS database, including 11 who weren't listed as a suspect in the original case. USA Today Network-Wisconsin first reported the data Thursday.
The hits are the first to come out of DOJ's work to inventory and test unexamined kits. The report doesn't name the offenders but agency spokesman Johnny Koremenos said local authorities plan to prosecute them.
Tens of thousands of sexual assault evidence kits have gone untested in the U.S. for a variety of reasons. A prosecutor may have decided a case was too weak to pursue or been forced to drop cases because victims wouldn't cooperate. Sexual assault victim advocate groups have been pushing since 2014 for states to analyze the kits anyway in hopes of identifying serial offenders.
Testing began in 2016 with a dozen kits at DOJ's crime lab. The agency has since contracted with three private labs for help. But as of Feb. 2, testing had been completed on only about 860 of 3,900 kits designated for analysis, according to DOJ's website.
Schimel, who faces a re-election challenge from Democrat Josh Kaul this fall, has drawn plenty of criticism over the slow pace. The state Democratic Party issued a news release Friday accusing him of letting rapists walk free.
"Already 11 DNA matches have been made from the mountain of sexual assault evidence kits that piled up on Attorney General Brad Schimel's watch," the release said. "That points to 11 potential rapists, previously unknown to investigators, that may have dodged justice due to his incompetence."
Koremenos accused Democrats of playing politics with sexual assault survivors, noting that untested sexual assault kits have been piling up in Wisconsin police departments and hospitals for decades and Schimel is the only reason they're being tested at all.
"Please know how misguided their attack on the initiative is," Koremenos said. "They honestly don't even have the most basic understanding of it."
DOJ officials said they needed months to identify untested kits spread across Wisconsin and an influx of kit submissions nationwide has reduced private labs' capacities. It took 10 months to secure a contract with the first private lab in December 2016, in part because no lab responded to a request for bids for five months, according to a DOJ timeline.
The agency submitted the first kits to the lab 13 months after the contract was signed, the timeline shows. Koremenos said the lab, Bode Cellmark Forensics, didn't have capacity until then.
Previous attorneys general did nothing to test any unsubmitted kits, he added.
The agency's insistence on getting victim permission for testing has complicated the effort as well. Schimel has said he doesn't want to alienate victims and jeopardize their cooperation in potential prosecutions.
Kaul campaign officials didn't immediately reply to an email seeking comment.
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