Local rape victims in limbo over evidence issues

According to an e-mail obtained by KHOU 11 Investigates, the District Attorney's Office requested that prosecutors and defense attorneys "not plea or try any cases where a sexual assault evidence collection kit was conducted by Memorial Hermann" from January 1, 2014 to February 24, 2018.

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office is putting years of rape cases on temporary hold while it reviews the procedures and protocols of the hospital where sexual assault evidence was collected. Many of those cases involved children.

According to an e-mail obtained by KHOU 11 Investigates, the District Attorney’s Office requested that prosecutors and defense attorneys “not plea or try any cases where a sexual assault evidence collection kit was conducted by Memorial Hermann” from January 1, 2014 to February 24, 2018.

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A spokesperson for Memorial Hermann Health System defended its handling of evidence in rape cases.

“All physical evidence has been properly collected, documented and sealed,” Spokesperson Alex Rodriguez Loessin said in an e-mail statement.

“This review is not disputing the integrity of any physical evidence,” Rodriguez Loessin said.

KHOU 11 Investigates spoke with three former employees at Memorial Hermann’s Forensic Nursing Services who said they witnessed rape evidence collection kits sitting around unsealed and unsecured for months at a time.

Additionally, both the Houston Police Department and the Houston Forensic Science Center, the city’s crime lab, confirm there were significant delays in Memorial Hermann releasing dozens of evidence kits to police.

“This was a real problem,” said Dr. Peter Stout, President and CEO of the Houston Forensic Science Center.

Dr. Stout said the delays in 38 cases ranged from months to as long as three years, and the majority of the exams were performed on children.

“We can't do our job if the kits don't get even make it to the property room to make it to us,” Dr. Stout said. “The victims lose and the rest of the citizens in the city."

Houston Police confirmed the “Department is aware of 38 cases from years 2014 through 2016 where delays did occur,” according to Spokesperson Jodi Silva.

Dr. Stout said he and Houston Police command staff met with Memorial Hermann last year to discuss the delays. But Rodriguiz Loessin said Memorial Hermann could not comment on them because “we do not know which specific cases are being referenced.”

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In the disclosure notice sent to prosecutors and defense attorneys, the Harris County District Attorney’s office did not indicate how long the rape cases in question would be stalled.

“Until we confirm the absence of any irregularities,” the notice stated.

Until then, victims are left in limbo, according to Dr. Stout.

“Victims can't get justice and perpetrators can't get off the street,” Dr. Stout said.