Suspected rapist arrested after backlogged DNA evidence tested

Law enforcement, advocates weigh in on impact of clearing backlog

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – In exactly one month, a suspected rapist will stand trial in Volusia County for a crime authorities say was committed 11 years ago.

Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood says it's because DNA collected years ago was finally submitted, tested and matched to a DNA profile of a convicted felon stored in CODIS, the national criminal database.

"You're taking a serial predator off the street," Chitwood said. "And that's what the important thing is here."

Chitwood says DNA evidence is what led then to arrest Adam Gregory Shuman, who is accused of raping a tourist 11 years ago in Ormond Beach.

[RELATED: DNA links Florida murder suspect to Daytona Beach serial killings, police sayFDLE: 8,000 backlogged rape kits tested in Florida]

"She's going to testify for us in November and make sure this guy never gets out of jail," Chitwood said.

He says DNA finally submitted for testing led to the arrest of Robert Haar for the gang rape of a 14-year-old girl in 1997.

Haar was convicted and sentenced to life in prison earlier this year, because DNA evidence irrefutably linked him to the crime.

"A sex offender is a sex offender is a sex offender," Chitwood said. "But they also commit a lot of other crimes. And you might not get them on the rape, but you know what it might match? A homicide. (It) might match a stolen car, might match a burglary. And that's the importance of getting the DNA into that database."

In September, News 6 reported how the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was finally able to clear its massive backlog of sexual assault kits, which for years sat untested in evidence lockers.

in total, 8,023 sexual assault kits were processed, resulting in 1,814 CODIS hits. Of the more than 8,000 kits tested, 1,842 came from Central Florida, and they resulted in 426 CODIS hits.

FDLE records show Volusia County as a whole had a total of 484 sexual assault kits submitted, which resulted in 124 CODIS hits.

Chitwood said that is proof this testing is getting real results for the community, and should serve as a wake-up call to sexual predators.

"Every time a police car must go by them, the hair on the back of their neck must be standing up, saying, 'Is this the day that my life is over?'" Chitwood said. "How does it feel to look over your shoulder every day for the rest of your life, knowing that sooner or later, 'I did this. They're going to be coming for me.'" 

Chitwood has a message to suspects who may not know if their DNA is in the database.

"It's only a matter of time before there's a knock at the door, and it's going to be law enforcement," Chitwood said. 

He credits Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi with helping get the rape kit backlog cleared.

"Because back in 2015, she secured the funding for everybody in the state of Florida and said, 'Look, enough is enough of this stuff. There is no more gray area. Submit them,'" Chitwood said.

At the Victim Services Center of Central Florida in Orlando, Executive Director Lui Damiani says that will hopefully encourage more rape victims to come forward to get justice, instead of keeping it to themselves.

"That didn't happen four and five years ago," Damiani said. "People were not coming forward. They weren't seeking the help. So we're able to make a difference. And it's having an impact in our community."

Damiani says last year alone, they helped 399 rape victims. He says they helped 383 victims the year before that, which is proof that more people are coming forward to report their rapes, and to get the help they need.

"It's changing. It's coming," Damiani said. "The #MeToo movement has helped. Stories like this help. And together, as a community, we're talking about it, and we're saying we're not going to tolerate it." 

The Victim Service Center of Central Florida helps survivors in Seminole, Orange and Osceola counties. Damiani says they have 15 trained nurses on hand, and their own private medical office victims can visit to get a rape kit completed. He says they also have counseling for survivors, so no matter when their assault happened, they are encouraged to come forward and get help.

"Just the confidence that victims and survivors will have in now being able to come forward, knowing that their DNA is going to get tested, it's not going to sit on a shelf somewhere, is valuable, and will cause people more confidence to be able to come forward and report this terrible crime," Damiani said.

To find a rape crisis center near you, visit OCRCC.org.

Here are some more links to other organizations that help survivors in Central Florida:

Brevard County: WomensCenter.net

Lake County: LakeCountyCrisisCenter.org

Marion County: FCADV.org

Flagler County: FamilyLifeCenterFlagler.org

Orange County: OCRCC.org

Osceola County VictimServiceCenter.org

Seminole County: VictimServiceCenter.org

Sumter County: FCADV.org

Volusia County: VolusiaRapeCrisisCenter.org