Early one morning in April, a homeless woman sleeping in an abandoned house in Louisville, Kentucky, was jolted awake by a stranger who pulled her bedding over her head and raped her, according to police.
The 29-year-old woman was taken to the University of Louisville Hospital, where nurses examined her for traces of DNA that could identify her assailant, NBC News reports. Such answers in rape cases typically take months, and sometimes more than a year — delays that can be traumatic for victims and diminish the odds of anyone getting prosecuted.
But the alleged attack occurred while the Kentucky State Police laboratory was evaluating a new “rapid DNA” instrument, which is marketed as a way to identify suspected rapists in hours, while victims are still being treated. If the technology works, it could revolutionize the way rapes are investigated in America, where hundreds of thousands of sexual assault kits remain untested and only a third of reported rapes result in an arrest.
As part of the first real-world test of the technology on sex assault cases, hospital nurses in the Louisville case took extra samples from the alleged victim and ran them through rapid DNA equipment. The device developed a DNA profile of a potential suspect in three hours. Within weeks, a man was under arrest. The case, still pending trial, reflects the power and the potential of rapid DNA testing as it slowly spreads through the criminal justice system.