State AG's Office closer to forming cold case unit for sexual assault cases

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- For the first time, our state Attorney General's Office may soon have a dedicated cold case unit. But it's probably not the type of cold case unit you're picturing.

Most of us associate the term cold case with a homicide case, but this cold case unit will be focusing on sexual assaults. This all stems from the nearly 10,000 backlogged rape kits that only started to be tested after the law changed, making it mandatory to test every single kit.

The change in law was a huge accomplishment for rape survivors and advocates who were horrified to find out thousands of kits sat on shelves for years, sometimes decades, after victims went through highly extensive exams, in hopes it would help solve their case.

But after a push to get them tested resulted in hundreds of DNA matches, the AG's Office realized there was an issue: local law enforcement didn't have the resources to actually reopen and re-investigate the large volume of cold case sexual assaults.

"It's excellent that finally the state is getting literally thousands of of untested sexual assault kits tested. Huge first step. But it is largely a pointless exercise if we don't do the follow up of going through and saying hey we have a hit, we know we have a DNA hit with someone who committed another crime, we need to investigate that and see if we can solve that cold case," said Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson in an interview with Q13 last month.

The latest data on the backlogged rape kits tested so far from the Washington State Patrol crime lab shows there have been 641 DNA matches to an offender in the criminal offender database, CODIS, so far. This means 641 cases at the very least have to be thoroughly reviewed, and then hopefully reopened. It's a tremendous amount of work for sex crimes investigators who already have a huge caseload as is. That's where the AG's cold case unit will come into play.

The state Senate passing the budget is a big first step for the unit, however, the funding won't be finalized until it's negotiated and passed by both chambers, which has to be done by March 12th.