Exclusive: GBI sends first shipment of untested rape kits to lab

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The first of more than a thousand previously unsubmitted sexual assault kits are now on their way to a private lab for testing.

Employees with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's laboratory packed up 50 of the kits Tuesday for shipment to Sorenson Genomics, a DNA lab in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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"We're excited about being able to finally start this process," said Cleveland Miles, the GBI's forensic biology manager.

Over the last several months, the GBI has reached out to health care providers and law enforcement agencies all over the state asking them to turn in kits after it was discovered last summer that some had been sitting on shelves for years. 

The agency now has more than 1600 sexual assault evidence kits in its possession.  1300 of them came from Fulton County, but the other 300 or so came from places all over the state including Albany, Athens, Bibb County, Cobb County, DeKalb County, Gainesville and Hall County, among others. 

GBI Director Vernon Keenan said earlier this year that some falsely believed the GBI would only accept kits for testing when investigators had a suspect.

"We started out doing DNA testing in sexual assault cases only when there was a suspect, but that changed over a decade ago.  Now, we will accept DNA for analysis on any crime," Keenan said.

The GBI was awarded a $1.8 million federal grant to pay for testing of the delayed kits, though that will not cover all 1,662 they currently have in their custody.

"$1.8 million is a lot of money, but when you look at the magnitude of the number of kits that we have, it doesn't go that far, especially when you have to get DNA testing on these kits from an outsourced laboratory," explained Miles.

It costs between $550 and $650 to test each sexual assault kit. 

Nevertheless, advocates believe this marks an important day for victims of sexual assault.

"These kits being able to be moved forward to be tested means that these victims may actually be able to have their day in court," said Jennifer Bivins, president of the Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault.

Sorenson has 45 days to test and return the first batch of kits to the GBI.  After that, the GBI will send another 50 kits to the company each month.