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Rape Kits in TN Crime Labs Languish for Months Before Being Tested

State lawmakers are expected to spend more on a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) crime lab after a Memphis murder case showed that some rape kits are languishing for up to a year unless they get “rush” status from local law enforcement. The average turnaround time for sexual assault kits ranged from 33 to 49 weeks between September 2021 to August 2022. “The backlog in rape kits has been a continuing problem and one that is extremely troubling,” said Lt. Gov. Randy McNally. There are not enough filled staff positions, and compared with surrounding states, Tennessee has the highest number of crime lab requests. According to the Tennessee Lookout, TBI says it needs 71 more positions filled to process requests efficiently. “The length of time to work these cases is attributed to the workload of the four scientists assigned to this unit,” TBI said. TBI requested 40 forensic scientists for the current budget year but received funding for only 20. In 2021, the Lookout reported that TBI is missing 76,000 DNA samples.

Some officials believe Eliza Fletcher might be alive today if the state’s work on sexual assault kits weren’t so far behind. During an investigation on Cleotha Abston Henderson, suspected in her murder, it emerged that a sexual assault kit submitted in September 2021 might have been linked to Henderson. Without enough evidence to expedite the kit, it was placed in the crime lab's long queue. The delay in processing rape kits has brought renewed attention from legislative leaders. House Speaker Cameron Sexton agreed that a rape kit backlog of six months to 12 months is atrocious. “We’re gonna give the TBI whatever resources they need to get the job done, to get that number to an acceptable level, which … is 30 days or less,” Sexton said.


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