A sexual assault nurse examiner opens a rape kit at the Solace Center in Raleigh. File photo by Alicia Carter / Carolina Public Press

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Sitting in shelves and languishing in storage rooms throughout North Carolina, more than 16,000 untested sexual assault kits contained the keys to solving decades-old crimes.

Two of these kits stored by the Durham Police Department yielded their secrets, and earlier this month, two men pleaded guilty to separate sexual assaults after law enforcement identified them using the DNA they left in crimes committed years ago.

Carlos Dominguez-Aguiar assaulted a woman at knifepoint after breaking into her home in 2015, according to the Durham County District Attorney’s Office. Timothy Rorie’s saliva was found on his victim after he broke into her home in 2005. In both cases, the evidence of the crimes sat in a Durham County Police Department untested rape kit for years, the DA’s Office said.

It’s a familiar refrain playing out in police departments and courtrooms across the state as the decades-old backlog of rape kits is finally tested. 

The two kits yielded enough quality DNA to be included in the federal Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, database. Law enforcement later learned of a match in each case.

Since the assault in 2005, state records show Rorie had been convicted of several crimes, including robbery, kidnapping, burglary and assault on a female, a crime commonly associated with domestic violence, according to the N.C. Department of Public Safety. Dominguez-Aguiar was serving a prison sentence in Texas for illegal reentry into the country, according to a Durham Police Department quarterly report.

After having the largest backlog of untested kits in the entire country, North Carolina is methodically working through those kits — more than 16,000 of them. A statewide initiative in 2019 to eliminate the rape kit backlog culminated with the Survivor Act, which requires any entity that collects a rape kit, such as a hospital, to notify law enforcement within 24 hours.

The act also requires testing of each rape kit in order to submit DNA profiles into CODIS. To date, the state legislature has provided millions of dollars to test the untested rape kits. So far, several men have been convicted of multiple sexual assaults, each after the state tested rape kits containing their DNA.

Statewide, around 40% of kits with DNA uploaded to CODIS, or 1,018 kits, have found a match in CODIS.

The DNA from another 1,481 kits has already been uploaded to CODIS, awaiting a hit from a possibly unknown person. That information is now displayed publicly, including down to the law enforcement agency level, on a new website.

The Durham Police Department had the largest backlog of any agency in the state, with 1,709 untested kits, according to information from the state Attorney General’s Office.

Of those, 1,469 kits have been submitted for testing and evaluation, and 94 of them have had hits in the CODIS database.

“The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative is an example of excellent coordination between Durham law enforcement and the Durham DA’s Office to hold people accountable for these violent offenses, even years after the fact,” said Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry in a statement.

There have so far been seven arrests related to 10 assaults from the department’s backlogged rape kits, the DA’s Office said.

“I also want to recognize and thank the scientists whose work made these convictions possible,” N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein said in a statement earlier this month. “DNA is a powerful tool that helps us to achieve our goals of making our communities safer and getting justice for victims.”

Kate Martin

Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at kmartin@carolinapublicpress.org.