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Justice Denied: Debbie Shaw’s Story

Debbie Shaw ( Shaw had to wait 19 years to find out who broke into her Dallas home and raped her in 1986.

That's because the rape evidence kit taken from her crime had been shelved away, untested, in a crime lab.

For years, Shaw thought the kit was lost or destroyed.

Soon after her attack, the 31-year-old mother spent a week in a psychiatric hospital, recovering from the trauma she endured. Before she checked out, she was told the hospital couldn't find her rape kit. No explanation was given.

With no leads on her rapist, Shaw was left to cope with her "shattered sense of security." For 17 years, the identity of her rapist "was always in the back of my mind."

"I thought there was no way they'd ever find him," she said. "I pretty much gave up hope."

In July 2003, Shaw attended a victim assistance academy, where the power of DNA evidence to implicate rapists was discussed. When she got home, she immediately called the police to see if there was any way to reopen her case.

Family and friends told her to let it go, but she couldn't. "Can you imagine going through life being attacked by someone and not knowing who they were?"

But then the police called her back. Her rape kit wasn't lost or destroyed. It had been sitting in a freezer for nearly two decades. She began to hope her attacker would be found.

Yet her wait continued. The lab took another year-and-a-half to test the evidence in her kit, a time that "seemed like forever" to Shaw.

When the test results finally came back in January 2005, they implicated Johnny Patton, who was already in prison for burglary, serving a 45-year sentence. But the evidence in Shaw's case had been backlogged so long that the time limit for prosecution had passed. Patton would never serve time for raping Shaw.

"I was feeling pretty invisible at that point," she said. "I was reliving the whole attack."

Today, Shaw writes letters to the parole board urging it to keep Patton in prison. She also has lobbied for -- and testified in favor of -- a bill in the Texas legislature that would indicate on people's criminal records if DNA evidence implicated them in a rape. The bill was unanimously approved in the state House and is now being considered in the Senate.

If it becomes law, Shaw said, "It would mean for me and the rest of the rape survivors that we finally got justice."

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