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Almost 36 years later, rape victim still hoping for justice

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Updated: May 3, 2013 6:04AM



Rosa Pickett will never forget September 3, 1977.

It was her sister’s birthday.

It also was the day the 17-year-old was sexually assaulted in Robbins while on her way to the birthday party. No one was ever charged with the crime.

So when Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart held a community meeting to discuss the 51 untested rape kits recently discovered at the Robbins Police Department, Pickett showed up.

The rape kits date back only to 1986, and thus do not pertain to Pickett’s assault.

Still, Pickett was hopeful her rape kit, which contained evidence of her sexual assault, would eventually turn up.

“What we found that night was just heartbreaking,” Dart told me in a telephone interview. “This wasn’t one isolated little situation. The rape kits were beyond anyone’s estimate.”

The sheriff’s department had initially gone to Robbins to help the village deal with unsolved homicides and an alarming number of burglaries.

“It is not that these towns don’t want to do certain things, but they don’t have resources,” Dart pointed out.

Even so, he acknowledged that there’s “no excuse” for rape kits to go untested.

His department is now in the process of getting the kits to the Illinois State Police for testing — and trying to match them to police reports.

“Because of incompetent police, this person went unpunished and I suffered for many years,” Pickett said, remembering the horrible night.

“He had come up on me so quickly until, I was shocked for a minute. He said: ‘You got a cigarette?’ — and I took off running. But he was already prepared. He threw his belt around my neck and squeezed it so tight that it cut off my wind and he dragged me into the weeds,” Pickett recalled, her eyes glistening with tears.

For nearly an hour, she was forced to perform sex acts and was repeatedly punched in the face.

Pickett believes her “thick glasses,” that she had stashed in her purse, saved her life.

“I told him, I’m halfway blind anyway. I can’t see you. I don’t know who you are,” she said.

So he stopped the brutal beating. He grabbed her glasses. He told her if anyone ever came looking for him, he had her ID and knew where she lived.

The teen staggered out of the weeds and a man on the street picked her up and took her home. Her mother took her to St. Francis Hospital in Blue Island where the rape kit was performed. There, a Robbins Police officer took photographs of her battered face.

“But we never heard anything else,” said Pickett, who believes her rape kit was never sent to be tested.

The issue of untested rape kits also popped up in Harvey. In 2007, a raid of that town’s police department uncovered 200 untested rape kits.

No one in the Harvey Police Department was criminally charged in connection with the neglected kits.

But last year, a 22-year-old rape victim filed a class action lawsuit against the city and its former police chief over the untested kits.

Cara Smith, a senior adviser to the Cook County sheriff, said that law enforcement agency hasn’t yet considered whether criminal charges will be filed against Robbins police for the neglected kits.

“I think that is an open question. We are not at that point. Our focus has been on getting the kits submitted and trying to find police reports,” she said.

While Dart said he doesn’t want to “minimize” budget issues, people are owed “a certain level of protection.”

“That should not be dependent on where you live or how wealthy you are,” he said.

So far, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department has not located Pickett’s rape kit. Even if the kit is found, her case is beyond the statute of limitations. But DNA evidence from the kit could be used in other cases, such as helping to identify a serial rapist.

“I know I’m not ever going to get compensated or any satisfaction, or any justice,” Pickett said. “But I want other women to know they don’t have to live with what I lived with all these years. If the police don’t do their jobs, go further; don’t just let justice not be done because you are going to live with it. It’s like a ghost haunting you.”

Smith said: “In Rosa’s case, the injustices are too many to count. It is unlikely that there could be any charges filed, but that doesn’t mean that the kit shouldn’t be located and analyzed.

“It is the right thing to do for Rosa.”

On Good Friday, Smith did a search of various filing cabinets that were in disarray and stored in the basement at the Robbins Police Station. Smith made another startling discovery. Tucked among hundreds of alphabetically filed contact cards was a card for Pickett.

“After all these years, there is some recognition that she suffered,” Smith said. “It was like finding a needle in a haystack.”



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