Baltimore County expedites testing of archived GBMC sex assault evidence in 2024
By Greg Ng and Lisa Robinson | WBAL-TV 11 • November 1, 2023 | Original Source
Baltimore County leaders are expediting the testing of cold case sexual assault forensic evidence preserved by the Greater Baltimore Medical Center since the 1970s.
County and police leaders announced at a news conference on Wednesday that new funding in the form of a $1.5 million state grant and $500,000 from the Hackerman Foundation will contribute toward the county completing the testing by the end of next year.
The county said about 1,400 pending cases will be tested as part of the initiative by the end of 2024, years ahead of when officials previously thought was possible.
“We hope that this expedited testing process brings that justice — as well as long-awaited closure — to any victim of sexual assault,” Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski said in a statement.
Sexual assault evidence was collected over decades:
In the 1970s, GBMC emergency room physician Dr. Rudiger Breitenecker recognized the value of evidence from sexual assault survivors and preserved evidence of more than 2,000 sexual assaults on microscope slides. Breitenecker continued collecting slides into the early 1990s, when his efforts led to the formation of the GBMC Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence program.
“We are grateful for GBMC’s tireless commitment to preserving this evidence along with the generous support of the Hackerman Foundation and our partners in state and local leadership,” Olszewski said in a statement.
“Dr. Rudiger Breitenecker’s foresight in preserving this evidence before DNA matching became common practice was revolutionary. Many sexual assault victims have found justice and closure decades after crimes were committed against them, thanks to his innovative mindset,” Dr. John B. Chessare, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Medical Center HealthCare System,” said in a statement.
Decades-old slides contribute to new arrests:
The slides have been maintained at GBMC and have proven viable for DNA testing, leading to the conviction of several offenders for decades-old crimes.
“We hope that this expedited testing process brings that justice — as well as long-awaited closure — to any victim of sexual assault,” Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski said.
“Dr. Breitenecker’s groundbreaking work collecting forensic evidence has empowered our office to identify and obtain at least 49 criminal convictions in sexual assault cases,” Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said in a statement.
In August, detectives arrested a 70-year-old man in the rape investigations of five women by using forensic evidence collected under the GBMC slide project, police said.
“One month prior to that (arrest) announcement, I created a temporary position in my office to oversee the GBMC Slide Project and coordinate the transfer of all GBMC slides to the department,” Baltimore County Police Chief Robert McCullough said in a statement.
Baltimore County not alone in custody of untested rape kits:
In 2016, more than 3,700 rape kits went untested across Maryland, 11 News Investigates discovered. At the time, the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention reported Montgomery County had 1,165 untested kits dating back to 1981.
In 2017, the General Assembly created the Maryland Sexual Assault Evidence Kit Policy and Funding Committee to establish a uniform policy regarding the collection, testing and retention of evidence in sexual assault cases. Legislation passed to block the destruction of most rape kits. That same year, Baltimore County police implemented a new policy to keep sexual assault and rape evidence kits in storage indefinitely.
In 2019, the county executive formed the Sexual Assault Investigations Task Force, and the county said it has since increased capacity to test SAFE kits, established a cold case investigations squad within the police department’s Special Victims Unit, and sought funding sources to support this effort.
“As a result of this project, we have already transferred 500 GBMC slide cases to the department since Oct. 1. By December 2024, the department expects to have all GBMC slides tested,” McCullough said in a statement.
“By obtaining all remaining slides, Baltimore County will be able to more effectively test evidence and our office remains ready to work with our partners in the Baltimore County Police Department to aggressively pursue cases and seek justice for victims,” Shellenberger said in a statement.
The county pointed to factors that have delayed progress, including the COVID-19 pandemic and external testing capacity. The county has also agreed with forensic labs vendor Bode Technology to increase testing of all remaining slides.
Fundraiser established to support expedited testing:
To raise added funds, the county is partnering with Season of Justice, a nonprofit dedicated to providing funding to help solve cold cases. As a result of the partnership, the newly created BreitLight Justice Fund will raise private funding to support this testing effort.
“We are proud to partner with Season of Justice and the county once again on the creation of the new BreitLight Justice Fund to help expedite testing,” Nancy Hackerman, president of The Hackerman Foundation, said in a statement. “(Dr. Breitenecker’s) advanced foresight on DNA sequencing, and his desire to bring justice and social change, is a charge The Hackerman Foundation is proud to stand with.”
Baltimore County will use a combination of county general funds and up to $500,000 in federal American Rescue Plan funds to this effort.
Baltimore County sexual assault resources:
Baltimore County Police Department Special Victims Unit: Call 410-887-2223
The GBMC SAFE-DV Program provides medical services and victim resources, as well as a listing of sexual assault services that are available to victims and survivors of sexual assault, child abuse and domestic violence
TurnAround Inc. — Baltimore County’s certified rape crisis center
Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault — survivors seeking help
Victim notification “opt-in” portal: 833-364-0046
Victim Information Notification Everyday