The governor of Tennessee has announced that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) will hire 25 new forensic analysts in order to assist with processing sexual assault kits (SAKs).
“Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally and Speaker Cameron Sexton announced a decisive step to accelerate the hiring process for 25 additional forensic lab positions at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI),” said a press release from the governor’s office. “Taking this action ahead of the regular budget process will expedite the TBI’s efforts to expand testing capacity and reduce the turnaround time for sexual assault kits (SAKs).”
Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) told The Tennessee Star Monday that processing rape kits more quickly is a matter of law and order.
“Tennessee is hiring 25 additional forensic analysts to help clear the rape kit backlog,” she said. “I introduced the Restoring Law and Order Act to ensure that Tennessee has the resources it needs to process rape kits faster and put these violent criminals behind bars.”
The move comes in the wake of the kidnapping and murder of Eliza Fletcher, a Memphis teacher who was abducted while jogging on September 2.
The DNA of her alleged murderer, Cleotha Abston, was matched to a Memphis rape victim while police were searching for Fletcher. They eventually found Fletcher dead with a gunshot wound to the head.
But Abston allegedly raped Alicia Franklin, another Memphis woman, in late September of 2021.
Franklin’s rape kit sat in a backlog at TBI’s Jackson lab for nearly a year, and only coincidentally was linked to Abston at the same time authorities were hunting for Fletcher.
Had the rape kit been processed more quickly, it is possible that Abston would have been behind bars sooner, and unable to commit the alleged murder of Fletcher.
Franklin is now suing the city of Memphis.
According to the press release from the governor’s office, TBI’s Jackson lab will add eight new analysts.
Abston, a career criminal who spent nearly two decades in prison for kidnapping a lawyer, faces a litany of criminal charges that, if convicted, will put him behind bars for the rest of his life.
Lee said of the new round of hiring:
For several years, Tennessee has made historic investments to support the TBI’s mission so that law enforcement can do its job and combat violent crime. As our nation faces rising crime, we are taking this additional step to eliminate bureaucratic hurdles, increase the TBI’s capacity and reduce testing turnaround times as quickly as possible. I’m grateful for the partnership of Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton and the General Assembly in this important action, and our efforts to strengthen public safety will continue.
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