Attorney General Andy Beshear said a newly created unit in his office focused solely on investigating and prosecuting sexual assault cold cases will be instrumental in maintaining his ongoing commitment to seek justice for victims of crime.
“Now that a majority of our untested SAFE kits have been tested, this unit can begin working with local and state officials to investigate and prosecute cold cases across Kentucky,” Beshear said. “While we still have a lot of work to do, today’s announcement is a giant step forward in keeping our promise to victims, many who have been waiting years, even decades, for movement or closure on their cases.”
The unit, funded by a $3 million U.S. Department of Justice National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grant awarded to the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office, will include a victim advocate, investigator, prosecutor and a SAKI coordinator from the three-year U.S Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance funding.
The funding will also cover the cost to test any remaining untested sexual assault forensic exam or SAFE kits, mainly boomerang kits, ones that were sent to the Kentucky State Police crime lab, not tested for various reasons then returned to law enforcement agencies.
Beshear said with the grant paying for the testing of up to 1,500 additional SAFE kits, it means every kit in Kentucky will be tested without exception.
Beshear said the cold case unit in his office includes professionals with decades of experience in law enforcement, prosecution and victim advocacy. The unit includes:
· SAKI Program Coordinator Carey Hendricks Aldridge, of Louisville, has a strong private and public sector background to protect victims. Aldridge began her career as a family advocate for a local spouse abuse program, worked for Kentucky Legal Aid to provide legal representation to indigent clients during domestic relations proceedings and joined the Hardin County Attorney’s Office as a family court prosecutor. Most recently, Aldridge worked at a law firm focused on advocating for the rights of crime victims.
· Victim Advocate Molly B. Cassady, of Louisville, served Jefferson County as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in a general trial unit prosecuting all levels of felony charges and on civil litigation, practicing family law in addition to nursing home and insurance defense, employment law and environmental law.
· Investigator Brian Sherrard, of Goshen, was a 23-year veteran officer of the Louisville Metro Police Department, where he worked 13 years as a special victims unit detective. Sherrard has vast experience in working sexual assault investigations, including serial and cold cases. He has worked on several tasks forces involving cyber related sex crimes, human trafficking and monitoring of individuals on the sex offender registry.
· Prosecutor Dana Todd, of Frankfort, has served the citizens of the Commonwealth for over 20 years working alongside law enforcement, court officials, agency representatives, victim advocates and social services. Todd has extensive criminal trial and administrative hearings experience. She has worked as an assistant attorney general, an assistant county attorney in Jefferson County and as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Franklin County.
The federal grant awarded to Beshear’s office also allows funding for an extra Kentucky State Police cold case unit sexual assault detective.
Upon taking office, Beshear made providing justice for victims of sexual assault and ending Kentucky’s SAFE kit backlog a top priority.
The SAFE Act of 2016 (Senate Bill 63) ensures the submission of all SAFE kits, requires police receive training to conduct victim-centered sexual assault investigations and sets timelines for testing kits.
In 2016, Beshear provided $4.5 million in settlement money to lawmakers to fund requested KSP crime lab upgrades and provided an additional $1 million from the settlement to aid law enforcement and prosecutors in conducting victim-centered investigations and prosecuting sexual assault offenders.
Early on, Kentucky secured funding to test 3,300 SAFE kits in an effort to reduce the backlog.
According to www.kentuckybacklog.com, 3,173 backlogged SAFE kits have been tested. As of Nov. 28, 2017, 415 DNA profiles had been created that produced 174 DNA CODIS hits.
Beshear said the grant also supports the Kentucky SAFE Kit Backlog Research Project, an effort the AG’s office is collaborating with the University of Louisville.
Beshear’s office has held multiple state trainings on the SAFE kit backlog; launched the collaborative research project with the University of Louisville to provide accountability to address the backlog; collaborated with the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs to hold the #VoiceOfJustice video contest to raise awareness of sexual assault on campus; and created a Survivors Council.