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Testimony in key Memphis rape kit lawsuit says the city could have tested the rape kits all along

"He simply says they could not send us TBI non-suspect DNA testing before 2002, then they’re just wrong,” said Gary K. Smith.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Another hearing in the lawsuit against the City of Memphis accusing the city of mishandling the testing of 12,000 Rape Kits happened Thursday. The case dates back to 2014, when news first broke of the DNA Rape Kit backlog, now sever women are suing the city.

On Thursday, final arguments were made in the case before judge Gina Higgins.  Lawyers representing the women, who call themselves “Janet Does,” brought forth new information against the city.

For nearly 20 years, the City of Memphis has argued it did not have the capability to meet the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s mandate that was ordered back in 2003 for testing rape kits. The city used the argument to have the case dismissed in the past. In the most recent testimony, witness Joe Minor, who lawyers says worked in the TBI during the 90’s and 2000’s said this claim is simply untrue.

A spokesperson with TBI told ABC24 in an email Minor worked as Special Agent Forensic Scientist in the Forensic Biology Unit. At the time of his retirement, Minor served as a supervisor and technical leader.

“He is the only person who knows that’s before this court who knows what their testing capability was, and he simply says they could not send us TBI non-suspect DNA testing before 2002, then they’re just wrong,” said Gary K. Smith, Attorney Representing Janet Doe, “Every law enforcement agency in the state of Tennessee could and some did do it.”

It is now up to Judge Higgins to decide the future of the case and the possible damages the victims may receive.  Attorney Smith argues dozens of victims are prepared to come forward, and he is prepared for each of them to receive money for the trauma this process has caused them.

Debby Dalhoff has said in the past she was a victim of the testing backlog. She said so much time had passed before her kit was tested, no evidence was left, in fact it was at the bottom of a landfill. This reason is why she has become an advocate on behalf of the victims involved in the case.

“Every day of your life is hard. You try to live your life to the fullest, you know at my age, I’ve worked all my life, I’m retired, it never goes away,” said Dalhoff. “I have a 91 year old grandmother who has walked every step of this way.  I want some closure, I want some justice before she leaves me.”

State Representative Antonio Parkinson said he has been trying to address the backlog through legislation since 2014. He supported a bill that would require TBI test the Rape Kits within 30 days. The bill never passed due to the cost involved, but this year he is hopeful the outcome will be different because of the Fletcher case. The suspect in her kidnapping and murder had a rape kit waiting to be tested months before she was killed.

“If that law had passed, the positive DNA hit to Cleotha Abston DNA in the Alicia Franklin case would’ve came back in time for Cleotha Abston to be in jail, and had he been in jail, he’d never have encountered Eliza Fletcher,” said Rep. Parkinson, “Eliza Fletcher actually lost her life and we can never bring her back, and you think about it, the family of Eliza Fletcher has to deal with the details of how she lost her life, but also the aggravating circumstances in the fact that we could’ve possibly prevented that.”

There is a chance Parkinson’s bill might pass this year. HB 0104 has already cleared two out of four committees, and it is scheduled to go to it’s third on March 6. State Senator London Lamar has a similar bill going through the Tennessee Senate. SB 71 has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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