For years, thousands of rape kits collected by Massachusetts authorities have gone untested, leaving many victims with little hope their assailants would ever be held accountable.
On Friday, Bristol District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III announced that a concerted effort to reduce that persistent backlog had yielded a breakthrough in one case that had gone unsolved for a dozen years. Evidence collected from a rape victim in 2010 but only tested in February identified a suspect in the attack: a 47-year-old Worcester man who was released from federal prison last year for an unrelated sex crime.
“This case demonstrates the importance of fully testing all sexual assault kits,” Quinn said as he announced an indictment charging Scot Trudeau with aggravated rape and assault and battery.
The arrest stirred a mix of gratitude and anger from advocates of sexual assault victims who spent years pushing Massachusetts law enforcement authorities to inventory and process untested rape kits.
“It’s been a long road in Massachusetts to get to the point where there is an agreement to test these kits,” said Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy at Joyful Heart Foundation, a nonprofit that has been pushing states to clear these backlogs. “This case really illustrates the importance of testing kits.”
A recent state report estimated there are 5,308 tests that haven’t been tested. Separately, Quinn’s office said it is working to get more than 1,100 kits tested.
Trudeau, who was arrested April 29, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on Monday and is being held without bail. He is scheduled to appear in Bristol Superior Court on Tuesday for a dangerous hearing.
Trudeau’s lawyer, Brian S. Fahy, said his client denies the allegations.
“He looks forward to his day in court not only to contest the issue of dangerousness, but also the facts of the case going forward,” Fahy said.
Prosecutors allege that Trudeau and another man carried out their attack on March 18, 2010, when they singled out a 23-year-old woman walking on a New Bedford street. The woman was struck on the head and dragged to a secluded spot, where, prosecutors allege, Trudeau raped her while the other man held her down.
The woman described her assailants to police but couldn’t identify them because they were wearing hooded sweatshirts, Quinn said.
She was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital, where she consented to a forensic medical examination and provided biological evidence that could be submitted for DNA testing. The DNA identified in her rape kit matched a sample Trudeau provided in 2015 after he pleaded guilty in federal court to attempting to travel out of state to have sex with a minor, prosecutors said.
In that case, Trudeau exchanged graphic e-mails with a federal agent who was posing a 13-year-old girl in New York, records show. A judge ordered him to spend 8 1/2 years in prison, followed by five years on probation, which Trudeau had yet to complete when he was arrested last week.
Trudeau was also implicated in another case in Worcester County. In 2009, prosecutors there charged Trudeau with rape, but later dismissed the allegation, court records show. A separate charge of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14 was continued without a finding and then dismissed in 2011.
Quinn, who took office in 2015, said prosecutors in Bristol County learned about the backlog of rape evidence while pursuing a homicide case. In 2013, John Loflin was convicted of murdering a New Bedford woman, Marlene Rose, 11 years earlier. Investigators had collected DNA from the crime scene and sent it to a state lab for testing.
Loflin had been charged years earlier — in 1997 — with rape in another case, but the charge was dismissed when the victim left the United States, Quinn said.
The woman had participated in a forensic medical examination and provided biological evidence. But unbeknownst to law enforcement, the samples were not fully tested, Quinn said. Had they been, Quinn said, Loflin would have been identified much earlier as a suspect in Rose’s murder.
It wasn’t until 2011, when Loflin submitted a DNA sample because he faced criminal charges in Tennessee, that Bristol prosecutors linked him to the Rose case, Quinn said.
That revelation led Quinn’s office to discover that 1,148 rape kits in Bristol County hadn’t been fully tested. Prosecutors successfully applied for a federal grant to pay for testing, and a private lab is expected to complete the work by the end of this year.
Quinn said the delays in testing were “totally unacceptable, especially for victims, the public, and law enforcement who believed these kits were being fully tested.”
“I immediately dedicated office resources so that every rape kit would now be fully tested to help identify perpetrators who had remained uncharged,” he said.
Advocates praised Quinn’s office for prioritizing efforts to test evidence from sexual assault investigations and securing a federal grant to finance the testing effort before a 2019 law dedicated $8 million to the task.
“What Bristol is doing is the model,” said state Representative Natalie Higgins, a sexual assault survivor and former rape crisis counselor. “I am still confused as to why there have been hurdles and barriers to getting this done for the rest of the state.”
Advocates said it has been a challenge to obtain a full inventory of the rape kit backlog and securing a plan to clear it. In 2019, the state reported that fewer than 400 kits were untested, Knecht said. But that figure didn’t tell the whole story. Thousands of other kits sent to the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab were never tested, she said.
House Speaker Ronald Mariano said in a statement that the indictment against Trudeau confirms that “it’s possible to test old rape kits and hold perpetuators accountable.” He urged Governor Charlie Baker to do more to clear the testing backlog.
“Despite years of inaction and objection from the administration, the House has sent a strong message to the many survivors who have been waiting for years to get their kits tested,” Mariano said.
A statement from Baker’s public safety office said he is “committed to delivering justice for survivors of sexual assault.” A criminal justice reform law passed in 2018 mandated that all new rape kits be tested within 30 days, which the Baker administration described as the nation’s “fastest turnaround time.”
In August, the Baker administration said it identified 6,502 kits that hadn’t been tested because local police or prosecutors had either said that they shouldn’t be tested or hadn’t explicitly authorized testing as required. The state’s figures, however, include only a few of the untested kits from Bristol County, a Quinn spokesman said.
A state report examining those 6,502 kits said the oldest was collected in 1987. Another kit is linked to a crime that occurred in 1979, though the state couldn’t determine when it was collected, the report said. Prosecutors have authorized 1,159 kits for testing, the most recent count indicates, and more than half of those have been sent to a private lab, the state said.
As of March 30, testing had been completed on 61 kits, but only one DNA profile identified during that testing was suitable for inclusion in law enforcement databases, the report said.