Tenn. senator files bill requiring TBI to process kits within 30 days

Published: Jan. 5, 2023 at 9:35 AM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Legislators are working to address Tennessee’s lengthy backlog of untested rape kits months after Eliza Fletcher’s brutal murder shed some light on the issue.

Newly proposed Senate Bill 71, filed by State Senator London Lamar, proposes the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) test rape kits within 30 days of receiving them.

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“As a state, we are underpaying the scientists and failing to recruit and retain quality individuals to test these rape kits because they are not being offered adequate pay,” said Sen. London Lamar.

TBI said in October the average turnaround time was between 32 to 42 weeks at testing labs.

The rape kit for Alisha Franklin, of Memphis, went untested for 48 weeks — nearly a year.

“Which I think is unacceptable for anyone,” said Lamar.

According to Franklin’s lawsuit against the City of Memphis, which has since been dropped, she was raped in September of 2021.

Her rape kit sat on a shelf, going untested until the next summer.

The initial results from her DNA test were completed on Aug. 29, 2022, after it was designated to be analyzed on June 24, 2022, but not entered into the national database until Sept. 5, 2022, as authorities were investigating the Fletcher case.

Memphis police found DNA evidence in the Fletcher case from a slide sandal left behind at the site of the abduction and asked the TBI for expedited testing at the lab in Jackson, the same place where Memphis police send rape kits.

On the day Fletcher’s body was found, the kit returned as a match for Cleotha Henderson.

The apartment complex where police say the rape occurred is the same where Henderson was arrested after Fletcher’s murder, and where police said the car used in her abduction was found.

Henderson has since been charged both for the 2021 rape and Fletcher’s murder.

In a statement after the discovery, TBI said:

Senator Lamar said the extreme delays in testing are why her measure calls for urgency and for TBI to submit a plan to eliminate the existing backlog.

“Making efforts to solve sexual assault crimes and sex crimes is not a Democratic issue, it’s a Republican issue, it’s a people issue,” said Lamar.

Because of that, she hopes legislators on both sides will work together during the upcoming 113th Tennessee General Assembly to raise scientist’s pay.

“As long as we keep the idea of keeping people safe on the forefront of how we think about this issue... I think that we can come together and create adequate solutions to this issue,” said Lamar.

The upcoming legislative session begins Jan. 10.

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