Task force investigates nearly 7,000 old Cuyahoga Co. rape cases, but so far only 419 arrested

Posted at 6:00 AM, May 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-23 08:22:55-04

It's been six months since the state of Ohio announced that all previously untested rape kits in Cuyahoga County had been tested. But News 5 has learned that only a fraction of the cases have led to an arrest.

"Our main focus, at this point, is people who are on the streets," said Rick Bell, special investigations division chief for the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office and head of the county's sexual assault kit task force.

Kits tested

The county submitted nearly 5,000 rape kits to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. BCI tested the kits, and Bell's task force started investigating each case associated with them. The group also took up old rape cases where DNA was not available, but there was other evidence to justify re-opening the case.

"Every single case gets reviewed," said Bell.

Halfway done 

In total, Bell said the task force started with 6,697 cases nearly three years ago. To date, the group is over halfway done with the project. Their work has yielded 419 arrests. 

"Once we take the worst of the worst rapists off the street, it'll help all of us," he added.

Bell said more than a quarter of the 6,697 cases given to the task force had previously been prosecuted but needed review. Other sets of cases had insufficient evidence, or the offenders involved were dead or already in prison.

"The DNA helps us to restart the case," said Bell. "But the real work begins when the investigators knock on the door of a victim, speak to a victim and open up wounds from nearly 20 years ago."

Getting justice 

"Twenty years later, I want justice," said a local rape victim who wished to remain anonymous. "It's indescribable to have that much fear."

That victim recently got the justice she had been longing for thanks to the work of the task force and DNA in her rape kit.

"I choose not to allow you to make me a victim," she said to her offender, Marcellus Johnson, in court at his sentencing. "You lose."

A county judge sentenced Johnson to 20 years in prison. He had raped the woman in her Cleveland home next to her 4-year-old daughter. The two did not know each other.

Bell said the task force is on track to close out all remaining cases in four years. The project is being funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Ohio Attorney General's office and Cuyahoga County Council.