DENVER - Rape kits that went ignored by police across Colorado for years are now finally being analyzed under a new law prompted by a 7NEWS investigation, and the CALL7 Investigators got an exclusive look inside one of the labs that is processing them.
After just the first few hundreds tests, dozens of sexual assault cases have been matched to evidence already in the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, a national DNA database.
Colorado chose four labs to process its backlog of thousands of previously-untested rape kits: Bode Technology near Washington, DC, Orchid Cellmark in Dallas, Trinity DNA Solutions in Milton, Florida, and Sorenson Forensics in Salt Lake City.
Cami Green, who works for Sorenson and has more than a decade of experience in DNA analysis, said the staff is proud to be a part of the effort in Colorado.
"We kind of feel like it's a sister state we're helping," Green said. "The impact of helping that case investigation is a little more tangible, more felt by our staff."
Green said each sample takes days to analyze, and even a microscopic piece of evidence can be the key to an entire case.
"The DNA profile is a hard, scientific conclusion that is going to withstand the criminal justice system," she said. "It's going to give an answer whether this profile doesn't match your suspect, or that it was a no-suspect case that we then, got a hit in CODIS."
Out of approximately 300 kits tested so far in the Colorado backlog, 110 have produced DNA profiles that were uploaded into CODIS. 30 matched existing profiles -- that often already include the names of suspects or offenders. Testing began earlier this year; a deadline for completion is set for June 2015.
Green calls the process "incredibly rewarding," and wants victims to know there is a better chance today than ever before that DNA testing can help deliver justice.
"If they felt like it just wasn't going to be investigated and that's why they don't want to proceed with the investigation, continue to proceed with it, because we have these new tools, we have more sensitive testing methods, we have these growing DNA databases that are going to give investigative leads," she said.
DNA leads to arrest
Sarah Castleberry echoes Green's message for victims. She was raped in July 2012, and waited a year for the results of her rape kit -- then another year for an arrest.
"I just remember experiencing the worst thing I've ever had to go through," Castleberry said. "Having someone take advantage of my body and my inability to protect myself."
At the time, Castleberry was nearly eight months pregnant, and battling severe depression.
"Losing my house, my car, my job, feeling like the worst mom on the planet. Being pregnant again with absolutely no resources to take care of myself or the child I already had," she said.
Castleberry attempted suicide, taking a handful of pills in a Denver park. She was drifting in and out of consciousness when she said a stranger approached.
"I don't remember a whole lot of getting to the area where he hid me," she said.
In the middle of the day, the man dragged Castleberry behind a bush nearby and raped her.
Denver Police sent her rape kit to the department's own lab for testing the month after the attack. She waited nearly a year to learn the results.
"Every time I called, it was gonna be more time and more time, because of the red tape in the labs, and the labs take too long, and it takes a while to submit paperwork," she said. 'There was always some reason why there was not gonna be an arrest made. And I had to come to terms with that."
Finally, in June 2013 the detective called with news that DNA from the rape kit had matched an existing profile in CODIS. The suspect had a long record of drugs and assault. Sarah didn't know his name, but was able to pick him out of a line-up.
"I would never been able to tell them who it was, and that was the absolute only thing that was going to help catch this guy," she said. "I'm thankful that his DNA was in the system."
It would be another year before Denver Police arrested Gregory Carter for the sexual assault. They stopped him for jaywalking in July 2014, two years to the day after the attack.
"If he hadn't jaywalked that day, with that warrant, he would have still walked. So it was incredibly important for that SANE exam to be processed," she said. "Without that, there would have been no warrant, and he would still be walking around comfortably in Denver."
Carter remains in jail, awaiting trial. Castleberry says both she and her daughter are now doing well.
"She's almost two now. Almost two years old, and healthy, and beautiful, and funny," she said. "Thank God that she's here and that I'm here. Because there's nothing in the world that I would change now."
Thousands of kits still untested
Now that thousands of previously untested rape kits are being analyzed, thousands of other survivors in Colorado are getting the same chance at justice that Castleberry has.
But the CALL7 Investigators have learned, more than half of the DNA evidence listed in a state-wide inventory of Colorado's rape kit backlog -- still isn't being tested.
We'll explain the reason those kits may never be analyzed Thursday on 7NEWS at 10.