MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — After a loud outcry over the rape kit backlog in Tennessee following the kidnapping and murder of Eliza Fletcher and the arrest of suspect Cleotha Abston-Henderson, some said the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) is finally making progress.
Sen. Brent Taylor said the TBI is now making significant progress in crime lab staffing and assault kit processing. He said rape kit processing time is down by 38% since 2022. In addition, the legislature has approved 50 new crime lab scientists, 24 of whom were hired last year.
“All of the sexual assault kits for Memphis and Shelby County go to the Jackson TBI office, and we’re in the process of expanding that facility to accommodate these new hires we are bringing on board,” Taylor said.
Earlier this year, Rep. Antonio Parkinson of Memphis sponsored a bill to have rape kits tested within 30 days, but it failed in the Tennessee General Assembly.
“Calling it a success to have rape kits turned around in six months, I think, is a bit of a slap in the face to all of the victims of rape that are out there in our state,” Parkinson said. “I mean, you think about it, an individual who may have raped somebody, the evidence won’t be turned around for six months. That individual could be out on the streets raping other people.”
Speaking at a recent community town hall meeting in Germantown, District Attorney Steve Mulroy says a crime lab testing center needs to be in Shelby County.
“We used to have a DNA testing lab here in Memphis and they shut it down and moved it to Jackson,” Mulroy said. “I kept arguing it should be here because again we’re the county with the greatest need.”
Still, some lawmakers said whatever progress is being made by the TBI should send a message to victims and to those who commit crimes.
“I think it’s important for them to know that the State of Tennessee is taking those types of crimes seriously, and if you commit those types of crimes in the state of Tennessee, we’ll lock your [expletive] up and you will remain in prison for a very long time,” Taylor said.
Some of the new TBI crime lab positions include forensic chemists, toxicologists, forensic biologists, firearms identification professionals, and latent print analysts.