Monday, September 26, 2022

A rape kit sat collecting dust for over 20 years. Today, a Florida man was indicted for a 1996 Wilmington rape

Former state regulations prevented the testing of DNA in rape cases unless a viable suspect was identified leading to a backlog of more than 15,000 untested kits --- Attorney General Josh Stein is working to reduce that number.

WPD Chief Ralph Evangelous, flanked by N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein and State Crime Lab Director John Byrd, discusses the indictment of a Florida man after the WPD received DNA results stored in the police department from 1996 until October 2018. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
WPD Chief Ralph Evangelous, flanked by N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein and State Crime Lab Director John Byrd, discusses the indictment of a Florida man after the WPD received DNA results stored in the police department from 1996 until October 2018. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

WILMINGTON — It’s been more than 20 years since the Wilmington Police Department collected evidence in a rape investigation — that rape kit sat on a shelf at the police department from 1996 until October of 2018.

Then, the DNA was finally tested. The Wilmington Police Department received the results to the collected DNA about three weeks ago, and today, a New Hanover County grand jury indicted Wayne Edward Soller, age 61 of Deltona, Florida in the rape along with several other crimes.

“In 1996 we believe that Soller broke into a young woman’s apartment, threatened her life and raped her while he was here in Wilmington visiting for work. A rape kit was completed, but due to regulations at that time, we were not able to submit that for analysis,” Chief of Police Ralph Evangelous said during a press conference Monday.

The regulations Evangelous is referring to made rape kits that had been completed unavailable for testing unless a suspect had been identified — this led to more than 15,000 untested kits across the state — something Attorney General Josh Stein is hoping to change.

“The DNA match came after a statewide push by Attorney General Stein to process backlogged kits. Our property and evidence technicians have worked diligently to send approximately 80 kits to the crime lab since this past October and have 61 more ready to go,” Evangelous said.

“Law enforcement is often a difficult job, but moments like this is why we do what we do. It’s been 23 years … we hope that our victim will finally see justice and hopefully some closure,” he concluded.

Soller was arrested by members of the U.S. Marshall’s Fugitive Taskforce along with WPD officers in Florida where he remains in jail without bond, according to District Attorney Ben David.

David said he is working on an extradition order and once it is complete, Soller will have a first appearance in New Hanover County. David also reminded attendees to the press conference that Soller is considered innocent until proven guilty.

Evangelous and David were unable to share more information about the case since it is pending in the courts, but both men shared the hopes that the rest of the untested kits will lead to more arrests in cold cases.

Stein has been working to ensure these test kits get the attention they deserve, but the endeavor is not cheap, he said, it costs about $700 per DNA test.

So far he has received $3 million to help process the kits, and he has asked the state legislature to help fund the rest of the testing.

As of now, Governor Roy Cooper, along with the North Carolina House of Representatives, has passed a budget with $6 million allocated to the cause, while the State Senate has agreed to $3 million.

“We are working as hard as we can with the resources we have to address that (untested rape kits). We know that DNA can bring new life into cold cases, we’ve seen it here today, a rape that occurred nearly 23 years ago,” Stein said.

Evangelous along with the others agreed that as more kits are tested and returned they are hopeful to solve more of these cold cases.


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