OKLAHOMA CITY — Danielle Tudor’s world changed forever the night a man broke into her home her senior year of high school.
The 17-year-old was home alone in Portland, Oregon, watching a movie when the man police later identified as Richard Troy Gillmore kicked in the door of her family’s home on Nov. 11, 1979.
The two locked eyes and froze, Tudor recalled Monday. He ran out the door while she dashed up two flights of steps to cower in the dark of her parents’ bedroom as she called police.
As she waited for them, Gillmore came back armed with a large stick and rushed the room, Tudor said.
“He was a very vicious attacker,” Tudor said, noting that he beat her, ripped her clothes and sexually assaulted her before fleeing.
After she got home from the hospital, Tudor recalls lying in her bed in the dark sobbing. She remembers pleading that if God helped her get through her experience, she would do what she could to help other victims.
It wasn’t until December 1986 when Gillmore sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl that police were able to arrest him and link him to Tudor’s attack and several others, she said. Until then, he was known only as “Portland’s Jogger Rapist.”
On Monday, Tudor, who now lives in the Tulsa area, visited the state Capitol. The Oklahoma resident advocated for testing of backlogged DNA rape kits and new laws dealing with how the tests should be processed and stored in effort to help other victims of sexual violence.
While CNHI News does not normally identify victims of sexual assault, Tudor agreed to share her story to promote awareness of Oklahoma’s need for strengthened sexual assault laws.
Meanwhile on Monday, state leaders announced they had created a task force to determine how many untested rape kits remain in the state. The state Health Department identifies Oklahoma as having “significantly higher” than average rates of rape and attempted rape.
“The overwhelming backlog of DNA evidence nationwide is currently one of the biggest obstacles to prosecuting perpetrators of sexual violence,” Tudor said. “Our unprocessed rape kits represent primarily women and children who have suffered one of the most heinous crimes imaginable.”
Officials said they believe Oklahoma City and Tulsa have the bulk of the state’s rape kits, but said all departments statewide will be asked to tally how many kits remain untested.
State leaders said they don’t know how many are awaiting testing, though Tudor estimates only a quarter are ever tested.
State Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, who is promoting the task force, said cost can be a factor in deciding which are tested.
Testing each rape kit costs about $1,200, and Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty said departments have to pay for the tests. He said each department has its own reasons and criteria as to which are tested.
Tudor said some departments destroy kits every few weeks while others store them untested for years.
Former Grady and Caddo County prosecutor and current state Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, said his counties did not have a lot of rape kits. Those they did have were tested on a case-by-case basis.
“A lot of times if the case was strong enough, we didn’t need the DNA kit,” he said. Other times the victim decided against prosecution or the charges were dropped, he said.
“Part of what’s good about this task force is it’s not going to look at reasons, it’s going to look at the number of kits, the number of tests, to be able to identify the problems and come up with solutions,” Biggs said.
Floyd said once the state can pinpoint how many backlogged kits remain, Oklahoma might be able to apply for grant money to help cover the costs of testing them.
Tudor said she never learned what came of her own rape kit. Police used other evidence to connect Gillmore to her attack, she said.
Gillmore is currently serving 30 years in prison for the rape of the 13-year-old, she said.
Though Tudor said Gillmore admitted to raping nine victims — because of Oregon’s limited statute of limitations at the time — Gillmore was never prosecuted for her attack. Now she’s hoping to make sure other survivors have a different outcome.
Even if a case is ultimately never prosecuted, by adding DNA information from rape kits into state and national databases, Tudor said police and prosecutors can use the data to link suspects to other unsolved crimes, including cold cases and to nab other serial rapists.
Today, Tudor said she sees her advocacy work to strengthen Oklahoma’s laws and policies as fulfilling the promise to God she made all those years ago.
“As we take the first step to addressing our rape kit backlog, we’re sending a very powerful message to victims today that they and their cases do matter,” she said. “It is unacceptable that predators remain free and that women and children await justice while rape kits gather dust.”