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Special prosecutors in New Mexico to focus on rape cases

March 4, 2020 GMT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Now that authorities are close to completing testing on a backlog of rape evidence kits, officials in New Mexico’s busiest judicial district announced a plan Wednesday for the next step in bringing justice to victims.

About 40 private attorneys have volunteered to act as special prosecutors and help the district attorney’s office try defendants identified through the testing. There also are four prosecutors in the office who are funded with grant money to work on the cases.

District Attorney Raul Torrez said 23 cases have already been assigned and three men have been indicted and are awaiting trial.

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Torrez was joined by Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and high-profile attorney Randi McGinn at a news conference to announce what they are calling “Project Predator.” McGinn is leading the effort, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

“We anticipate over the next couple of years there will be a couple hundred of these (Sexual Assault Kit Initiative) backlog cases that will be coming through the district attorney’s office, and the participation and willingness to serve makes it easier for our attorneys and our prosecutors to move quickly through the other parts of the system,” Torrez said.

Keller, who as state auditor announced in 2016 that New Mexico had the highest rate of untested evidence kits, said his office knew at that time that testing all the kits would be just the first step.

“In many ways getting the backlog tested, that’s probably the easiest part of this,” Keller said.

Torrez said the special prosecutors will undergo training to ensure they’re up to speed on his office’s protocols.

Albuquerque Deputy Chief of Police Arturo Gonzalez said sex crimes detectives are re-interviewing victims and witnesses. He said the 10 detectives are working current cases as well as those that come up in the backlog.

So far, police have about 400 hits from a DNA database and are expecting that to grow. Torrez expressed some concerns about the workload facing the detectives.

“I know they’re stretched pretty thin,” he said.