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Rutherford Co. rape case highlights backlog in DNA analysis

Joseph Shelton Joseph Shelton
MURFREESBORO, TN (WSMV) -

A Smyrna man accused of a rape may have only been caught because of a software upgrade. Joseph Shelton pleaded not guilty Monday, but his case has revealed a lot about the backlog of rape cases in Tennessee.

Shelton is accused of using a syringe to drug a woman and rape her outside a Murfreesboro restaurant in 2011.

The 40-year-old concrete finisher has a long record of charges, including domestic assault and especially aggravated kidnapping as well as driving and probation infractions.

He is so accustomed to court appearances he asked for his favorite public defender Monday.

"This is a pretty serious case and allegations against me. There is a public defender that's been appointed to me a few times in the past, so I was wondering if I could recommend him maybe," Shelton said. "He knows me, and it would be nice to have somebody who has my best interest at heart."

Prosecutors say Shelton drugged a woman by using some kind of hypodermic needle full of drugs. She awoke the next day and went in for a rape test.

That was November 2011, and the DNA match came back last summer. It then took six more months to indict Shelton and then five more months to extridict him from a Florida prison.

It has now been a full 2 1/2 years after the crime.

"Our victims, they lose faith. And I don't know how many of them have just decided to quit because it takes so long. And they feel like the system is failing them, and they are continuing to be victimized over and over again," said Kimberly Reynolds, a Rutherford County domestic violence counselor.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was able to match Shelton after a recent FBI-approved software upgrade. The new software has spit out dozens of new matches on DNA crimes.

"Right now, the turnaround time for forensic science, which includes DNA work, is about 24 weeks. That's not where we want to be. We want it to be closer to 10 weeks. The caseload is high right now. We continue to work these cases as quickly as we can, and we want to improve and continue to grow," said TBI spokesman Josh DeVine.

The TBI also wants to make clear this isn't always their backlog. That DNA evidence often sits in police evidence rooms for weeks, if not months, before being submitted.

Copyright 2014 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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