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DNA Awareness Rally Set For Tuesday Aug. 27

by The Rainbow Sisters Project Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2002 at 5:44 PM (310) 645-9249

Rape Survivors, the Wrongly Convicted & Supporters Call to Enforce the Moratorium on DNA Evidence Destruction and Fully Fund DNA Testing. Prompted by outrage that LAPD officials "accidentally destroyed biological evidence in at least 1100 sexual assault cases since 1995" (LA Times, July 30, 2002), rape survivors and others calling for change in DNA preservation and testing will hold a rally outside LAPD’s Parker Center Headquarters in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, August 27 at 10 a.m.


Rape Survivors, the Wrongly Convicted & Supporters Call to Enforce the Moratorium on DNA Evidence Destruction and Fully Fund DNA Testing

LOS ANGELES (August 20)— Prompted by outrage that LAPD officials "accidentally destroyed biological evidence in at least 1100 sexual assault cases since 1995" (LA Times, July 30, 2002), rape survivors and others calling for change in DNA preservation and testing will hold a rally outside LAPD’s Parker Center Headquarters in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, August 27 at 10 a.m.

The rally participants will also call for increased funding, sufficient space and adequate staff for DNA testing in the new million dollar LA County Regional Crime Lab. Plans for a new Crime Lab were recently approved over public criticism that the lab would be "inadequate and obsolete before they opened it’s doors." Backlogged rape kits number in the thousands in Los Angeles, nationwide in the hundreds of thousands.

In a unusual pairing, two local residents -- a rape survivor and a man wrongly convicted of another rape – will address the DNA Awareness Rally for Public Safety, protesting the destruction of DNA evidence by law enforcement and to fully fund DNA testing.

Jeri Elster and Herman Atkins’ stories painfully illustrate the human cost from both sides of the criminal justice system, when it fails to give the most effective crime prevention and crime-solving tool —DNA testing— the priority and resources necessary to ensure public safety..

Elster’s worst nightmare materialized on August 27, 1991, when she awoke in the middle of the night to a stranger raping her at knifepoint. The rapist was eventually identified through DNA evidence testing, but will never be prosecuted for her rape because

both the LAPD and DA failed to order the testing prior to the then 6-year statute of limitations.

- More-

Elster’s story helped change California law. As of January 1, 2001 the statute of limitations on rape is effectively eliminated when DNA evidence identifies the rapist.

Herman Atkins, an innocent man, spent 12 years in a California prison for rape before a DNA test provided the proof of his innocence. It took 3 years to get a judge's permission to utilize testing of the biological evidence. While Atkins was in prison, the real perpetrator remained free from prosecution. Atkins also helped change California laws - those incarcerated now have greater access to post-conviction DNA testing.

The DNA Awareness Rally is being held on the 10th Anniversary of Jeri Elster’s assault.

Speakers will speak in support of two DNA-related bills in Congress -- the Debbie Smith Act and the Innocence Protection Act. The Debbie Smith Act authorizes funding for testing of 180,000 - 500,000 backlogged DNA rape evidence kits, and funding of new DNA evidence testing if performed within 10 days of the crime. The Innocence Protection Act provides increased access to DNA testing in all cases where it could prove innocence. Post-conviction DNA testing has exonerated 109 Americans to date, including 12 from death row.

WHEN: Tuesday, August 27, 2002 from 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM

WHERE: 10 AM- Rally Outside LAPD Parker Center (Los Angeles St. & 1st)

Participants will stop at the Downtown Federal Building 300 Los Angeles St. before they proceed to join Meeting of the LA County Board of Supervisors (Temple & Grand)

at NOON.

ENDORSED BY: Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN); the Innocence Project; Rosa Parks Sexual Assault Crisis Center; Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation (MVFR); the Purple Berets- Women Defending Women; The Post -Conviction Assistance Center; Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform; Equal Justice USA/Quixote Center; Musicians and Artists Against Rape; SOAR - Speaking Out About Rape.

The Rainbow Sisters Project is a Los Angeles-based national group of rape

survivor/activists who are dedicated to direct action, public education and

legislative lobbying to improve the lives of rape survivors and our communities.

In addition to Jeri Elster, and Herman Atkins, invited speakers August 27th include:

Barry Scheck, (NY) DNA expert, attorney and founder of the Innocence Project

"In approximately 75% of the cases the Innocence Project has handled in its

ten-year history, post-conviction DNA testing was impossible because the

biological evidence from the case was lost or destroyed.

More than half the states in the nation have enacted post-conviction

DNA testing laws in recent years, but the 'right' to DNA testing is an empty one

if there is nothing left to test -- and most of these

states' laws lack any kind of 'preservation' requirement. The Innocence

Protection Act will, for the first time, require that every state in the

nation make DNA testing available where it can prove or disprove a claim of

innocence, AND preserve evidence for a reasonable length of time so that the

right to DNA testing will truly become a reality."

Debbie Smith (VA) - "Each one of these stalled (backlogged) cases represents

women's lives. Many women are paralyzed after an attack because their rapist

is still out there, and you never know if he's going to come back."

Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton (NC)- Jennifer Thompson mistakenly

identified Ronald Cotton as her rapist. Cotton spent 11 years in a North

Carolina prison before he was exonerated by DNA testing. Thompson wrote in a NY Times op-ed in June 2000, "Although he is now moving on with his own life, I live with constant anguish that my profound mistake cost him so dearly. I cannot begin to imagine what would have happened had my mistaken identification occurred in a capital case."

Kellie Greene (FL) is the founder of SOAR- Speaking Out About Rape, DNA

evidence from her rape sat on a shelf for three years before it was tested,

once the evidence was entered into a data-base a hit was made. Greene says,

"DNA is really an amazing tool. You don’t know where you’re going to get the

DNA from but you get it from a lot of places"


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