iTeam investigation prompts AG review of rape case

Beshear’s office is looking at the case which could have put a wrinkle in his prediction to have no untested rape kits by the end of 2018.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – An iTeam investigation which found documents suggesting Louisville Metro Police misled a family about the handling of evidence in a rape investigation prompted a review of the case by Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, WHAS11 News has learned.

Beshear’s office is looking at the case which could have put a wrinkle in his prediction to have no untested rape kits by the end of 2018.

Beshear made the declaration when he announced the formation of a Cold Case Sexual Assault Unit in January.

PART 1 | Documents suggest family misled on whether unsolved rape evidence was tested

“Every kit, every single one in Kentucky will be tested…Kentucky’s untested rape kits by the end of this year will be zero; no exceptions and no asterisks,” Beshear said.

Over the past 4 months, the iTeam requested and examined multiple documents surrounding the handling of the rape of Salisa Luster in 2008.

A letter written by an LMPD official to the family in December 2016 said the state crime lab was asked in 2015 to do new testing on evidence found in the investigation.

“This was done in an attempt to use more advanced technology than was previously available in order to develop a suspect,” the head of the Special Victims Unit wrote in the letter, adding, “Unfortunately, that evidence testing has not provided us with any further information.”

The letter informed the family the case was being closed again.

The iTeam also found a letter from the state crime lab, dated six weeks earlier in November 2016, asking the SVU official for written authorization to do additional testing on hairs because the testing would have consumed the entire sample.

“We request that written authorization for testing be provided by the prosecuting attorney or investigation officer to the laboratory including acknowledgment that the entire sample may be consumed and that there is no suspect in this case,” Lab Supervisor Whitney Collins wrote, citing state law as a reason for requesting the written permission.

However, through multiple open records requests to LMPD and crime lab, no written authorization could be found. Spokespersons from the Jefferson County Attorney and Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorneys offices also could find no documents authorizing the testing.

What the iTeam was able to find was contained in an internal record from the crime lab where an analyst detailed interaction LMPD had with the crime lab on the Luster case.

In an entry dated in March 2017, the analyst described a phone call from an LMPD detective.

“[A detective] called me back, and said that he had received a “cease-and-desist” order from HQ, but that he would speak with his Lt. to give me a definite answer on whether to have the hairs tested or not,” adding, “the head of SVU, then called me back and let me know that no further analysis would be pursued on the hairs and that I could send the evidence back to the agency.”

“I knew this 10 years ago was going to lead up to them making a fatal mistake and that’s what he did when he put it in writing, when he knew, in fact, it had never been tested. He had never signed off on it.,” Luster’s mother, Cheryl Ellis told the iTeam.

Ellis said she had always been skeptical of what she had been told about the case.

By the time this story was published, the iTeam has yet to receive an answer from LMPD on the discrepancy. A department spokesperson twice declined requests to interview Chief Steve Conrad and the head of SVU.

Beshear, who said he could not discuss the specifics of the Luster case, said it would be concerning if a police agency independently decided whether evidence in a rape investigation was tested or not.

“Well the law requires them to provide those kits for testing and anytime we learn of a kit that’s not tested, we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that it is,” Beshear said.

Meanwhile, a study published in January focuses on the financial impact of not testing sexual assault kits in Kentucky. The study looked at one-third of the more than 3000 untested kits in the state. The study concluded if those kits had been tested and suspects arrested, it would have prevented future crimes which cost taxpayers $4.2 million. That figure includes economic losses by crime victims, medical costs, lost earnings and costs to the state’s criminal justice system.

Luster fears her attacker may have been responsible for other crimes.

A spokesperson for Beshear also confirmed the office is reviewing the handling of Luster’s case and is in contact with LMPD.

“We can bring to bear the pressure of the Attorney General’s Office to do the right thing each and every time.,” Beshear said when asked if he could take action against an agency or department found to arbitrarily choose whether evidence in a rape investigation is tested.

Luster still does not want LMPD handling the evidence in her case.

“I don’t think they will do what’s right if they do get their hands on it,” she said, “I just have to have faith in God that He will work this out for me.”

The iTeam is continuing to investigate the handling of the case and the status of the evidence.

An additional entry in the crime lab’s report shows after the iTeam started asking questions about the case, the head of SVU contacted the state crime lab to request a new copy of the November 2016 authorization letter.

The iTeam is also awaiting results of newly filed open records requests seeking information on what’s happened to the evidence since the iTeam first posed questions about the Luster case.

iTeam Investigator Derrick Rose can be reached at (502) 582-7232 and Follow him on Twitter: @WHAS11DRose.

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