CLEVELAND - The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office has indicted 50 rape suspects so far, thanks to help from a project led by the state's attorney general.
"This is just the beginning with only 50 people in four months," said Rick Bell, the prosecutor's cold case unit director. "We feel that we're doing very good."
The office of Attorney General Mike DeWine is leading a sexual assault kit testing initiative. Law enforcement agencies from around the state have submitted untested rape kits, many of them nearly 20 years old, to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation for testing. Out of the 3,286 untested kits submitted, DNA evidence from 387 kits matched to a suspect. Of that number, 282 were kits submitted from Cleveland Police.
"We need to take these people off the street," said Bell.
Once a match is made, Bell's team of 12 investigators attempts to find the suspect and notify the victim.
"For some survivors who are getting a call after 20 years, it can be the best news, the news they've been waiting for for decades," said Sondra Miller of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. The center counsels victims associated with DeWine's project.
But Miller said that moment can bring about a range of emotions.
"For other survivors, they may have an adverse effect, they may have to tell their children," she added. "We have to understand that while some are excited about the news, others are going to be terrified."
Bell expects many more indictments to come as there are still more than 2,500 rape kits from Cleveland Police to be tested. But it's a race against time. Right now, there's a 20 year statute of limitations for rape in the state. And many of the rape kits that are submitted are nearly 20 years old. So BCI is testing the oldest kits first.
"Anytime we have an opportunity to take a violent sexual offender and put him behind bars, we should dedicate all the resources we can to doing that," Miller said.