ATLANTA — Prosecutors fear that statewide budget cuts could make it much harder to test evidence and get criminals like rapists off the streets.
“This would really be a cruel joke on the women of our state," Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said when we asked him what he thought of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's proposal to cut forensics positions tied to rape kit testing.
The GBI, like many state agencies, was required to make difficult decisions, submitting proposals to the governor in a sweeping 4% statewide budget cut plan.
The proposed cuts include eliminating three forensics scientists and two lab techs, people who would be behind processing the DNA evidence.
Howard just announced the indictment of Cleophus Ward, a serial rape suspect tied to a 19-year-old rape case out of Spelman College.
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Ward is one of 156 rape suspects identified through the GBI's testing of 1,500 rape kits from Grady Hospital, some linked to cases up to 30 years old.
"We believe it's going to take at least seven years to locate all of the witnesses and victims and all 156 cases," Howard said.
A million-dollar federal grant allowed Howard's office to investigate and prosecute dozens of the cases.
Grady Hospital, which had previously held the kits because victims had not authorized release, came to an agreement with prosecutors to send the critical evidence to the GBI, shortly before a 2016 state law required it.
State Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-81, authored legislation to strengthen DNA evidence testing and preservation. He weighed in on the proposed GBI cuts Monday.
"The survivors of sexual assault in this state have a right to know how these decisions are going to impact them and the amount of time they're going to have to continue to wait for justice in their case," Holcomb told Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr.
“For many years, the state failed to test rape kits in a timely manner,” he said. “We have fixed that and I want to make sure that any changes to include cuts will not undermine the state’s commitment to pursuing justice.”
Cox Media Group