Rape kits of women found dead in Lumberton sat untested for more than a year

Kristin Bennett, Rhonda Jones, and Megan Oxendine_1552040056508.jpg.jpg

LUMBERTON, N.C. (WNCN) – In a stunning development, CBS 17 has learned the rape kits of three women found dead in Lumberton sat untested in the police department for a year and eight months.

In April 2017, Kristin Bennett’s body was found naked inside a television cabinet in an abandoned home in East Lumberton.

That same day Rhonda Jones was found across the street naked and upside down in a trash can.

The following day, Megan Oxendine spoke to CBS 17 for a television interview.

In June 2017, she was also found dead in the same neighborhood. 

According to their autopsy reports, evidence was collected from their bodies.

But, the Lumberton Police Department has not answered CBS 17’s questions regarding the case including whether the evidence has been tested by the state crime lab.

The North Carolina Department of Justice oversees the lab.

CBS 17 requested the same information from the NCDOJ and learned the specifics about when samples were received by the lab, tested and the results returned to Lumberton police.

The three rape kits were submitted December 21, 2018.

The results of that testing have just recently been given to Lumberton police.

The following are the specifics of what the Attorney General’s Office provided to CBS 17. 

Christina Bennett – DOO – 4/18/17

  • SAECK submitted on 12/21/18; DNA lab report released 2/8/19
  • Kit was received on 12/21/18.
  • All evidence submitted has been worked.

Rhonda Jones – DOO – 4/18/17

  • Original submission on 7/6/17; DNA lab report released on 2/9/18
  • Second Submission SAECK submitted on 12/21/18; DNA lab report released on 2/8/19
  • First submission received on 7/6/17 and returned 2/9/18.
  • Second submission received on 12/21/18 and returned 2/8/19.  All evidence submitted has been worked.

Megan Oxendine – DOO – 6/3/17

  • Original submission on 7/6/17; BF lab report released on 10/25/17;
  • Second Submission – DNA lab report released on 1/8/18
  • Third submission: SAECK submitted on 12/21/18; DNA lab report released on 2/26/19
  • First submission received on 7/6/17 and returned on 10/25/17.
  • Second submission received on 7/6/17 and returned 1/8/2018 
  • Third submission received on 12/21/18 and returned 2/26/19
  • All evidence submitted has been worked.

Attorney General Josh Stein says it’s up to each individual law enforcement agency to determine when to submit evidence to be tested. 

“It concerns me that there’s no statewide standard so that each law enforcement agency is for every kit making an independent determination of do I let sit on the shelf for 45 days, 180 days, forever. And we’ve got to stop that so that we don’t have this backlog accruing year after year.” Stein told CBS 17. 

According to the Attorney General’s Office the Lumberton Police Department did submit other samples for testing prior to last December.

But, the rape kits are recent.

CBS 17 spoke to both Megan Oxendine’s mother and Rhonda Jones’ mother about the latest revelations.

They both expressed anger and disappointment. 

“They’re like, ‘how is this possible that they’ve had this sitting on a shelf for this log and didn’t even try to the state crime lab?’ What do you say to those parents? CBS 17’s Russ Bowen asked Attorney General Stein.

He replied “each one of those 15,000 kits that are sitting on a shelf that’s not tested somewhere in the state of North Carolina – that’s a human being, that’s a parent, that’s a loved one, it’s a family, it’s friends and so yeah we owe the people of North Carolina better,” Stein said.

One way Stein said he’s working to improve that is a proposed law known as the “Survivor’s Act.”

It would mandate a maximum of 45 days for any law enforcement agency to submit evidence for testing. 

“Right now, there’s no standard so every law enforcement agency is making their own determination about how long it should sit on the shelves before they send it or even whether to send it,” Stein said. “There are 15,000 kits that have never been sent to us that’s why we’re pushing the Survivor Act.”

Bowen asked Stein: “Can you talk at all about the integrity of the sample itself sitting on the shelf in a random police precinct or random evidence room anywhere in North Carolina? Not to accuse anyone of doing anything wrong but the opportunity is going to be there for evidence to deteriorate to be tampered with to be lost.”

Stein replied “I mean obviously the longer something is somewhere the greater risk there is that it will ultimately be compromised. But DNA if you keep it in a properly refrigerated space, it preserves for a very long time.”

Stein also emphasized that it’s important to have faith in the law enforcement system. 

But, Rhonda Jones’ mother, Shelia Price, said that is difficult to do given the amount of time that has passed and the new information regarding the rape kits.

Price, however, did share this thought “newsflash for all of Robeson County, my baby is getting justice. No matter how long we fight and how long we pray Rhonda is getting justice. Point blank.”

CBS 17 has reached out to the Lumberton Police Department for a comment on the information regarding the testing of the rape kits.

The Department provided the following statement:

“At the time of the autopsies of Christina Bennett, Rhonda Jones, and Megan Oxendine, Lumberton detectives were advised that due to the condition of the bodies, the Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kits (SAECK) would likely not yield results to advance the investigations.  For that reason, other evidence which may have had a better chance of advancing the investigative process were prioritized and submitted to the crime lab.  The SAECK were submitted more than a year later, their analysis did not provide positive results.  Lumberton Police Chief Michael McNeill said, “Regardless of the test results, the SAECK for each of these women should have been submitted to the lab in a more timely manner, the Lumberton Police Department will review the policies and procedures in place to determine if changes should be made.  We continue to work every day to uncover and prove how these women died. We hold ourselves accountable to their families and to this community to uncover the truth.

As always we continue to ask the public to come forward with information they may have in order to help us determine what happened to these three women. The FBI continues to offer a $30,000 reward for information that leads investigators to determine the circumstances that led to their deaths.”

To follow the cases more closely take a listen to CBS 17’s 32 Degrees podcast that is dedicated to this ongoing story. 

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