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BJA 2021 Review, Investigation and Prosecution of Cold Case Sexual Assaults Using DNA Technologies

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Awardee County
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $1,395,078)

The Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) Taskforce, led by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office (CCPO), has completed investigating 7,020 of its 7,024 previously untested SAKs collected in Cuyahoga County between 1993 and 2011, resulting in over 800 new indictments. However, additional work remains to identify sexual offenders in Cuyahoga County.

First, not all 7,024 kits that were tested were solved. Many perpetrators remain unidentified because although the testing resulted in a Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) upload, there was no resulting “hit” to a named offender. The CCPO indicted 176 of these cases (referred to as “John Doe” defendants) and is using 2019 and 2020 SAKI funding to apply forensic genetic genealogy (FGG) to 40 of the 176. The CCPO seeks 2021 SAKI funding to apply FGG to additional John Doe defendants.

Second, the CCPO seeks to solve sexually motivated homicides with a DNA profile in CODIS but no hit. The CCPO has identified 517 DNA profiles in CODIS in Cuyahoga County homicide cases with no CODIS hit. The CCPO seeks 2021 SAKI funding to apply FGG to identify some of these 517 profiles.

Third, the Cleveland Police Department (CPD)’s Sex Crimes Unit asked the CCPO to re-investigate more recent SAKs. The CCPO is currently re-investigating ~1,600 SAKs collected by CPD between 2012 and 2019 to determine if additional testing and/or FGG could produce leads. To date, these re-investigations have proven successful – of 16 cases that received additional testing, the result has been two new (cold) CODIS hits and six new indictments. The CCPO seeks 2021 SAKI funding to complete these re-investigations.

To fully leverage the forensic evidence contained in the SAKs to identify and prosecute sexual offenders, we propose the following goals: (a) utilize advanced DNA methodologies to identify violent sexual offenders, (b) continue to investigate and prosecute the leads produced from advanced DNA methodologies in an evidence-based, victim-centered manner; and (c) leverage our experiences to inform practices locally and nationally.

These goals will be achieved through the following deliverables: (a) investigate and prosecute sexual assaults and sexually motivated homicides; (b) assess “lessons learned” via independent research conducted by Case Western Reserve University; (c) document and disseminate processes and outcomes; (d) enhance Taskforce competencies and capabilities through cross-disciplinary training on victim-centered practices and advanced DNA methodologies; and (e) continue entering cases into ViCAP.

Date Created: December 17, 2021