Lost in the noise of election day last week was news that another previously untested rape kit, this one thirteen years old, had led to a Polk County rapist’s arrest. After attention was focused on untested rape kits in the last two years, and a Ledger investigation by Clifford Parody resulted in discovery of over 800 untested kits stored by different law enforcement offices in the county, agencies began sending the kits to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab for testing. For the second time, one of the old Winter Haven rape kits has led to the arrest of a rapist.
After a victim’s report to the Winter Haven Police Department in 2003, the woman submitted to the invasive rape kit procedure that leads to DNA testing of bodily fluids. However, instead of sending the kit to FDLE for testing, investigators put it in storage. As a result of all the recent publicity about untested kits, investigators sent the kit to the lab. A few weeks ago, the results came back with a positive hit on the DNA of Stephen Berouty.
This time, investigators went the extra mile and obtained a new DNA sample from Berouty. It too was positive. Detectives got an arrest warrant and took Berouty to jail, where he remains while awaiting trial.
Last year Winter Haven detectives also arrested Rodrecious Hamilton – for a 2009 rape. The victim’s rape kit was sent to FDLE at the time of the alleged rape. Results of lab testing indicated Hamilton’s DNA was present, and FDLE asked for a new swab from Hamilton to confirm the match. Unfortunately, the detective assigned to the case back then didn’t follow up, and no swab was obtained. The case was then closed. Since the media scrutiny of their handling of rape kits, the Winter Haven Police Department has taken a closer look at old cases. So, although the rape kit in this case had been tested when it was created, detectives followed up on the investigation anyway and discovered that it was incomplete. They obtained the swab from Hamilton, arrested him, and took him to jail almost exactly 6 years after the rape occurred.
Of the over 800 Polk County rape kits not tested since 2000, only 55 were Winter Haven cases. Yet the only two cases I know of that have resulted in identification of rapists are from Winter Haven. Police Chief Charlie Bird sent all of the old Winter Haven rape kits to the lab, and he has taken an aggressive approach in investigating the cases. I don’t know if that’s why he has had the only success in the county in turning the old cases into arrests, but I can’t help but wonder why there have been no others. Nationally, testing of old rape kits has resulted in identification of many rapists, including serial rapists. That should be happening in Polk County, Florida.