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Mo. Hurries to Extend Rape Statute

February 5, 2002

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) _ When prosecutors realized DNA technology could solve decades-old crimes, many states hurried to remove or lengthen the statute of limitations for rape and sodomy.

Missouri prosecutors thought their state law already gave them an unlimited time to bring charges in such cases _ until a state appeals court in December 2000 interpreted the law to provide for a three-year statute of limitations for rape and sodomy.

Now Missouri lawmakers are working quickly to remove the prosecution deadline _ and hoping more cases don’t slip through the cracks before they can act.

The House passed such legislation just three weeks into its annual session, and the Senate is expected to follow soon. Gov. Bob Holden supports the effort but has said he wants to review the wording of whatever bill passes.

``Rape is a lifetime crime. It may only occur once, but it marks a woman’s life. The emotional damage doesn’t go away,″ said Rep. Cindy Ostmann, one of the bill’s many backers. ``Why should a woman be burdened with a lifetime of memories and know that her rapist can go free?″

The longer it takes for the measure to pass, the more rapists go free, said House Speaker Jim Kreider. Prosecutors in Kansas City and St. Louis, for example, soon will lose the ability to file charges in 50 rapes that occurred between January and March 1999, he said.

In most states, including Missouri, crimes such as murder already have no statute of limitations. But states have limited the prosecution period for rape cases on the reasoning that witnesses’ memories would became fuzzy five or 10 years after an alleged crime.

Recent developments in DNA technology allow semen taken from a victim to be matched years later to the genetic makeup of an attacker. Because of that, 17 states have removed or extended the statute of limitations for rape cases during the past two years.

Missouri lawmakers tried to change the law last year, but the measure was merged into a larger crime bill that ultimately failed. This year, the rape legislation is moving on its own.

State law describes rape and sodomy as felonies but doesn’t specifically classify them. For the longest time, Missouri courts interpreted that to mean they were Class A felonies, which don’t have a statute of limitations.

The December 2000 ruling by Missouri Court of Appeals’ Western District took a strict interpretation of the law. The court said those crimes must be treated like other non-classified felonies, such as assault, which have a three-year statute of limitations.

Until a new law can be passed, prosecutors are trying to buy time.

The Jackson County Prosecutor’s office has begun filing charges against a rapist’s DNA by using the name ``John Doe.″

In one such case, a Jackson County prosecutor filed charges against a John Doe who followed an 81-year-old Independence woman home on Christmas Eve three years ago, then beat and repeatedly raped her.

In another case, the Boone County prosecutor’s office used a kidnapping charge _ which has no statute of limitations _ to win a conviction in a case that involved a woman who was taken into the woods and sodomized while on a lunchtime stroll.

``The reason we have no statute of limitations for crimes like murder, kidnapping and arson is because they are more serious. Rape is in the same category as those crimes and should have the same statute of limitations,″ said Rep. Craig Hosmer, a sponsor of the legislation.

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