The Wisconsin Department of Justice on Thursday announced the first conviction resulting from the testing of backlogged sexual assault kits.
The development represents a notable sign of progress for the state’s efforts since 2016 to shift priorities and test more than 4,100 sexual assault evidence kits dating back to the 1980s.
Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul announced that a Waupaca County jury convicted Leroy Whittenberger of three counts of second degree sexual assault, which are class C felonies, for the assault of a teenage victim in July 2012.
“A survivor who waited years for justice has finally received it,” Kaul said in a statement.
Whittenberger has three prior sexual assault convictions. He has not yet been sentenced, and could face maximum imprisonment of 25 years confinement and 15 years extended supervision for each count.
So far, testing of sexual assault kits has resulted in charges against at least nine people.
The sexual assault kits were tested after the DOJ in 2015 received $4 million in federal grant funding to test Wisconsin’s kits, which began in 2016 under former Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel.
The project, dubbed the Wisconsin Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, has been completed and the crime lab is now refocusing its efforts on reducing the number of pending cases.
The DOJ in 2014 first discovered the existence of nearly 7,000 untested sexual assault kits in law enforcement and hospital custody across the state.
Sexual assault kits can contain evidence that is crucial to finding sexual predators or freeing those wrongly convicted. The thousands of cases remained on hospital and law enforcement shelves in Wisconsin because suspects were already identified, prosecutors thought cases were too weak to continue or victims wouldn’t cooperate.