Update 7/29/21: This article has been updated to include information from Berkeley Police Department sergeant Jesse Grant.
After Berkeley Police Department officers examining parts of a partially untested rape kit, the Alameda County District Attorney’s office levied new charges earlier this month against Keith Asberry, who has already been arrested on suspicion of sexual assault and murder
According an East Bay Times article, the discoveries made from the kit linked Asberry to a sexual assault that occurred Feb. 11, 2005.
Asberry has been detained at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, California, since March 2018 and has an upcoming hearing at the René C. Davidson Courthouse in August.
Sergeant Jesse Grant from the Berkeley Police Department helped connect Asberry to the sexual assault from more than a decade ago, according to BPD spokesperson Officer Byron White.
In addition to testing the old rape kit, BPD received a grant from the California Department of Justice in 2020 that can pay for additional tests on other kits, White noted.
In Alameda County, not all evidence collected at a hospital after a sexual assault is sent to a lab for analysis. Only the evidence with the most “probative value” is immediately tested, White added. BPD is using the grant to investigate those remaining materials.
Over the past few years, California has passed legislation to address the inconsistent testing of rape kits. In 2019, SB 22 was approved by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, requiring kits to be submitted within 20 days of being collected and tested no later than 120 days after being received.
There is also a bill being currently discussed in the state Assembly’s Appropriations Committee that would create an online portal for survivors to check the status and results from their sexual assault evidence kits.
White said BPD is in compliance with SB 22 and that investigations into past cases are routine at the department, citing a 1997 rape case that was solved in March.
“Best practices are about actively looking at some of these older cases as much as we can and see if there is anything we can find,” White said.
Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation, a group focused on helping survivors, explained that victim-blaming and a lack of standardized policy around testing have caused a rape kit backlog nationwide.
When procedures for testing, such as California’s SB 22, are not in place, important decisions about whether to examine or ignore a rape kit are left to sometimes only one person, Knecht noted.
“The real fire alarm for us is that we know there are kits in these piles literally sitting on shelves that represent people such as Keith Asberry,” Knecht said. “They are the evidence that could stop them from victimizing someone else, prevent harm and prevent the derailing of someone’s life.