Almost two years ago, Jonquel Jones approached a 22-year-old woman on the L train in Manhattan. The woman was a lost tourist, visiting from another country, and was asking other passengers for directions to Brooklyn, where she was staying at a friend’s apartment. Jones, then 25 years old, suggested they get off together at the next stop. He said he’d help her hail a taxi.
It was around 11 p.m. on September 5, 2013, when they walked up the stairs at the First Avenue L stop in Manhattan and Jones told the woman that he would show her where she could get an inexpensive cab to Brooklyn, according to a source with knowledge of the case. After they had walked for nearly a mile, Jones threatened his victim with a knife and raped her in a hidden area on East 10th Street near the FDR.
The victim went to the hospital, where a sexual assault evidence collection kit, or rape kit, was used to swab, comb, pick, and otherwise collect any DNA in the course of a lengthy, fifteen-step, head-to-toe exam. Authorities ran DNA collected from the rape kit through the state’s DNA Databank — which returned a “cold hit”: a genetic match from the state’s library of forensic evidence. Because he had a previous felony, Jones’s DNA was in the system.
The victim was in the U.S. as part of her 22nd birthday present from her parents and little brother, she wrote in a victim impact statement submitted during the trial.
“I did not expect to be a victim of the most horrendous crime on a very special holiday in the most beautiful city in the world,” she wrote. “My parents did not expect a call from New York that caused such profound confusion, hurt, and trauma.
“In the confusion of the moment, my dad thought I had died when my devastated mom shared the tragic news. The impact of this crime left me devastated and helpless in a foreign country.”
About Jones, she wrote:
“The accused deserves no mercy. The harshest prison sentence possible must be imposed. Society must be protected from evil. Barbarism in ‘the land of the free’ must not be tolerated.”
Exactly one month later, Jones was accused of sexually assaulting a twelve-year-old girl in the East Village apartment of his then-girlfriend. “He forced her to undress and change into different clothes while he watched,” reads a statement from the New York County District Attorney’s Office. “Then Jones forcibly kissed her. The girl reported the incident to her mother, who contacted police.”
Jones was arrested by the NYPD in an abandoned building in Brooklyn on March 24, 2014. He pleaded guilty on May 28, 2015, in New York State Supreme Court, to rape and sexual abuse, both in the first degree. On Friday, he was sentenced to sixteen years in jail and twenty-five years of supervision after that.
“In case after case, we see the power of DNA evidence to solve crimes and exonerate the innocent,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.
There were 17,000 untested rape kits in New York City in 1999. That year, amid a push from city and state officials, as well as then–U.S. senator Hillary Clinton, the city began processing every kit in the backlog — and immediately processing all new kits. “As a result, law enforcement officials were able to link together cases committed by serial offenders and exonerate a wrongly convicted individual,” say advocates at the Joyful Heart Foundation, a national nonprofit that aims to educate and empower sexual assault victims. (The group was started by actress Mariska Hargitay, who plays Sergeant Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.)
After the city cleared its backlog of untested rape kits (at a cost of $12 million over four years), the data showed 2,000 DNA matches and 200 cold-case prosecutions.
New York, Detroit, and Cleveland are among the cities that process all rape kits as a matter of protocol. In other communities, some rape kits are shelved for years. Numerous news stories (read this one in Vice and this recent investigation by USA Today) have chronicled what happens when a victim, because of a DNA match, sees justice years — sometimes a decade or more — after being assaulted. USA Today reports that more than 70,000 rape kits sit untested in more than 1,000 jurisdictions across the country.
End the Backlog, a program of the Joyful Heart Foundation, breaks out the backlog by city and state with this map. Officials in those communities say there’s just not enough money or manpower to process the rape kits, but advocates at End the Backlog also argue that police departments are hesitant to process them for fear of violent-crime numbers going up, an issue that’s been well documented over the years in cities across the country.
“Another, less frequently acknowledged, cause of the backlog is unwillingness among many law enforcement agencies to prioritize and dedicate sufficient resources to sexual assault cases,” End the Backlog writes on its website. “Members of law enforcement frequently disbelieve or even blame victims of sexual assault. Despite data proving otherwise, many agencies also maintain the philosophy that testing a rape kit is only useful when a stranger committed the assault.”
In November, the Manhattan district attorney’s office announced (watch the press conference above) it would share $35 million with jurisdictions across the country to help process rape kits and add that DNA information to searchable libraries for use by police.
On Friday, Vance reiterated those comments: “Today’s case demonstrates that people who rape commit other types of crime and sexual assaults, continuing the pattern of violence until they are apprehended.”