Hillsboro police are investigating five cases of rape committed in Hillsboro over a period of 13 months. The victims are 16 to 28 years old.
Hillsboro Police Chief Dan Kinning said police have suspects in every case and are either waiting for cooperating police agencies to secure out-of–state suspects or waiting for DNA evidence to return from the Kansas Bureau of Investigations main crime lab in Topeka.
Although rape and murder cases with DNA from the scene of the crime and DNA from a known suspect are the highest priority for the KBI forensics lab, the lab currently has a backlog of more than 800 cases, lab director Mike VanStratton said. The KBI forensics lab in Topeka serves more than 400 police agencies in 103 Kansas counties, Sedgewick and Johnson Counities have their own labs. They have six forensic scientists on staff; four started working in 2010.
“We’re subpoena driven: if this case is going to court in two months we’ll get on top of it,” Van Stratton said. “We’re down two or three DNA scientists. The state doesn’t have money to pay for things.”
The most recent case occurred Saturday. Police have already executed a warrant for evidence and have interviewed a suspect, Kinning said.
The second most recent case Hillsboro police are investigating occurred Dec. 5.
The earliest case goes back to Dec. 8, 2008. The lead suspect in this case is a 47-year-old male living in Dickinson County. Kinning said that Hillsboro police officers are waiting for DNA evidence to return from KBI before making an arrest.
The other two cases took place Aug. 5 and Sept. 12, 2009. The leading suspect in the Aug. 5 case is a 37-year-old Hillsboro resident. He is currently out of the state.
Hillsboro police are awaiting DNA results from KBI from the Sept 12 case.
The five-man police squad in Hillsboro uses all of its manpower to investigate a crime scene.
“The number one priority is making sure the victim is safe,” Kinning said. “As far as the investigation is concerned, the crime scene is the number one priority.”
A rape kit is performed on the victim and the police gather bedding or other materials from where DNA evidence can be found. Police look for any blood or semen that could be used for DNA evidence. It is imperative that officers gather evidence as quickly as possible.
“We do collect a lot more DNA than we used to,” Kinning said. “The fresher the evidence the more there’s going to be.”
Mike VanStratton, the director of KBI’s crime lab in Topeka, said that 40 percent of the evidence that comes into the lab either doesn’t have enough DNA to make a replication or contains DNA that is tainted.
“It could be a type of substance that destroys DNA, UV light destroys DNA, bacteria,” VanStratton said. “You have to try to collect it as soon as possible.”
Marion County Attorney Susan Robson said that either a confession by the suspect or DNA evidence is almost always necessary to gain a conviction.
“A confession or physical evidence,” she said. “You need something like that to turn the tide.”
Sexual battery— assault without penetration — is more easily proven, but the penalty is much less severe. A rape conviction carries a minimum prison sentence of about 12 years and, depending on the circumstance surrounding the suspect’s criminal history, can bring a sentence of up to 54 years. Sexual battery can put a suspect in jail for up to a year with a fine.
“It carries a heavy penalty,” Kinning said. “People fight it.”
The collection of evidence is even harder for Kinning because some victims don’t go to the police right away.
“Some of them have a problem with blaming themselves,” Kinning said. “They should not feel that way.”
Reporting a rape is even harder for the victim because the victim often knows her assailant.
“Generally it’s someone who’s known by the victim,” Kinning said.
After collecting all the evidence on scene, Hillsboro police conduct thorough interviews. The victim and — in situations where the victim was assaulted at a party — everyone on the premises. When a suspect is identified, the suspect is interviewed. Kinning said that he has spent as long as six or seven hours with a suspect.
“I assume that (people are lying) every time I talk to somebody,” Kinning said.
Kinning said that in a lot of cases witnesses aren’t available. The evidence in those cases is the word of the victim and the word of the suspect.
“Sometimes it’s difficult because you don’t have a lot of evidence,” Robson said.
Testimony can also be complicated for victims.
“Sometimes victims feel like it’s their fault,” she said.
Also making a conviction more difficult, according to Robson, is the discomfort that jurors feel with cases involving sexual crimes.
“They’re cases that make people uncomfortable,” she said. “No one wants to think that that goes on in our nice little community.”