Henderson rape charge sheds light on rape kit processing delay in West Tennessee

Published: Sep. 12, 2022 at 7:48 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Cleotha Henderson (Abston), the man charged with kidnapping and murdering Memphis mother of two Eliza Fletcher, was given a new charge last week — rape.

This new charge is purely coincidental to the Fletcher case.

In fact, it comes almost a year after the rape kit was submitted by MPD on Sept. 23, 2021, almost a year of waiting for a survivor.

This has become the norm for Tennessee rape cases, at least in West Tennessee.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) said on Sunday that a rape kit submitted to the Tennessee Crime Lab in Jackson can take anywhere from 33 to 49 weeks to be processed.

TBI says this is due to a massive workload coming into the Jackson crime lab.

There are currently only four forensic scientists to work on all of the DNA evidence submissions in West Tennessee.

In 2021, there were 602 evidence submissions from the 21 counties in the lab’s coverage area.

316 of those submissions were rape kits from just Shelby County, which was 27% of the state’s total kit submissions.

The No. 2 county was Knox County with 168.

The remaining, specifically, rape kits that were submitted by counties in our viewing were: Hardeman (7), Fayette (6), McNairy (5), Tipton (5), Lauderdale (4), Dyer (2), Crockett (1), and Haywood (1).

2022 is looking to be a similar picture for Shelby County.

Currently, Shelby County has submitted 218 rape kits to the Jackson Crime Lab, 28% of the state’s total.

The No. 2 county is Hamilton with 85.

Our other West Tennessee viewing area counties are: Hardeman (7), Dyer (4), McNairy (4), Tipton (4), Lauderdale (3), Fayette (1), Haywood (1), Crockett (0).

“We are in the process of hiring three additional scientists and a technician to work forensic biology cases in our Jackson Crime Laboratory, as part of our ongoing effort to improve turnaround times,” said TBI Public Information Officer Keli McAlister.

What’s more is work was recently done to create a rape kit tracker, thanks to the Jim Coley Protection for Rape Survivors Act from this year’s general assembly.

“House Bill 39 / Senate Bill 1035 intends to give a little bit of control back to survivors of rape and sexual abuse,” said Democratic Representative Bob Freeman, during an April presentation of the bill to the House Floor. “Survivors of rape and sexual abuse can see where their kit is in the process. It allows for the process to be more responsive, reliable, and consistent. I can’t overstate how important this legislation is going to be for survivors of rape and sexual abuse in Tennessee.”

Memphis, as some may remember, has not had the best recent history with rape kit submissions.

In 2013, roughly 12,000 untested rape kits were discovered by Memphis police, some of these kits dating back to the 1980s.

A class-action lawsuit was filed by affected women, with more women joining in on the suit as time went on.

The final hearing for that case is set for Oct. 20.

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