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Proposed NC legislation would collect DNA in violent crime arrests

 Linda, a 1993 sexual assault survivor whose rape kit was later matched with DNA from a man convicted in an unrelated case, speaks at a press conference in April. Linda, who is being identified by only her first name, has given permission for her photo to appear with this article.
Alicia Carter
/
Carolina Public Press
Linda, a 1993 sexual assault survivor whose rape kit was later matched with DNA from a man convicted in an unrelated case, speaks at a press conference in April. Linda, who is being identified by only her first name, has given permission for her photo to appear with this article.

Three men left Linda for dead in the woods of Harnett County after they kidnapped her from an office building, brutally beat and raped her.

She survived, but at a heavy cost.

“I could have died,” Linda said. “They beat me a lot. I was beaten in my face and kicked in my ribs and had a neck injury.”

The future she imagined evaporated before her. Gone were the plans to become a surgical technologist. Linda quit school and never worked a paying job again. Her assault was made infamous in Cumberland County by the spray-painted phrase on the hood of her white Toyota: “3 Horsemen.”

That was nearly 30 years ago.

In April 2015, John Somerindyke, then a Fayetteville Police Department lieutenant, showed up at her door as she rocked her grandchild. He was there to tell her they were reopening the investigation into her case. Linda said she knew what it was.

“But you know, you wait for a long time, and I said, ‘Where have you been?’” Linda said last month. “He was really nice, and both of us were extremely nervous.”

Somerindyke told her a cold-case team decided to reopen her case and was trying to find her attackers.

That lieutenant, now a consultant, remembers the visit. The department had just opened its cold-case sexual assault unit and listed several rapes on a whiteboard.

“Hers was on the top” of the list, Somerindyke said. “We outgrew the whiteboard and made it into a spreadsheet.”

Police hoped untested DNA from thousands of rape kits would provide some clues, but that turned up dry.

Then in October 2020, the Fayetteville Police Department received a “hit notification” from the state crime lab with a match to one of Linda’s three attackers. The state crime lab had identified a match for the DNA of Roy Junior Proctor, now 47, who had been required to provide DNA as a condition of his probation for an unrelated conviction.

He remains in jail awaiting a trial that could come this fall. Her other two assailants remain at large.

Prosecutors charged Proctor with attempted first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree rape, first-degree sex offense and felonious larceny.

Many cold-case rapists have a history of domestic violence, Somerindyke said.

His examination of 28 of Fayetteville’s cold-case suspects showed 13 of them had prior domestic violence arrests. For two serial rapists, Somerindyke said, one was charged with six rapes and another with 11 rapes. Both were arrested for a misdemeanor related to domestic violence after their second rape.

Had DNA been collected on that misdemeanor arrest and uploaded to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or, CODIS, Somerindyke said last month, “at least 13 women wouldn’t have been raped by these two suspects. … I say at least 13 women just because it’s always possible they got away with unreported rapes.”

Proctor was arrested in 2013 for assault on a female, a misdemeanor charge usually associated with domestic violence, but he was never connected to Linda’s rape because DNA collection for that crime is not required. The charge in that case was ultimately dismissed.

Rapists often commit domestic violence

Earlier this year, several Cumberland County lawmakers proposed a bill to require DNA submission upon an arrest for assault on a female. Already the state takes DNA when someone is arrested for a violent felony. House Bill 674 would add assault on a female and assault on a child under age 12 to that list.

The bill passed the state House on a 108-3 vote earlier this year.

“Rapists commit domestic violence, we know it,” said Deanne Gerdes, executive director of Rape Crisis Volunteers of Cumberland County.

In fact, rapists often have extensive criminal histories that continue after victims reported their rapes and submitted to a forensic exam, according to research led by Rachel Lovell, assistant professor of criminology at Cleveland State University.

Lovell’s team poured through 7,000 case files from untested rape kits in the Cleveland, Ohio, area, some of them decades old, and selected 721 to investigate more thoroughly.

Researchers narrowed that group to 418 suspected sexual offenders who had been identified, either by a hit on the CODIS database (79%) or through a law enforcement investigation (21%). Researchers then investigated the criminal histories of the assailants. More than 85% continued to commit serious offenses, including other felonies.

Of that group, 43% had been arrested for a domestic violence offense.

Lovell’s data also shows serial rapists, those who commit two or more rapes, are perhaps more common than previously thought.

“While we are still undercounting repeat sexual offending, our data on rapists connected to these now tested kits have a repeat sexual offending rate of approximately 40%, which stands in sharp contrast to the ‘official’ sexual recidivism rate of 8%,” Lovell recently told Carolina Public Press.

Push to test kits

In 2019, Attorney General Josh Stein announced a statewide effort to test every untested rape kit in the state. It was thought at the time there were more than 15,000 untested rape kits, more than any other state in the country. That total has since grown to more than 16,000, as more kits were found.

Of those tested so far, there have been at least 63 arrests for 91 separate assaults, Stein said in April.

“That means that there are 91 victims or 91 victim families that are experiencing some sense of closure, some sense of relief in the knowledge that the system is working on their behalf,” Stein said.

But if DNA were taken from people arrested for assault on a female, more rapists would undoubtedly be found.

“Solving sexual assaults and getting rapists off our streets make our communities safer,” Stein said. “We’ve learned that people who commit sexual assault have, on many occasions, previously committed other violent crimes against women. It’s time to pass this bill (H674) into law.”

In Linda’s case, a DNA match for her assailant might have been found seven years sooner had the state taken DNA for domestic violence arrests.

“These men, women too, I guess, will commit this crime till the day they die if you don’t stop them,” Linda said. “Never forget that some of us never live to tell or walk away.”

While the bill passed the state House, it is so far not scheduled for a Senate committee hearing, according to Sen. Phil Berger’s office.

Editor’s note: Carolina Public Press does not name sexual assault survivors without their permission.

Copyright 2022 North Carolina Public Radio. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio.

Kate Martin, Carolina Public Press