Test of old rape kit leads to indictment of man on sexual assault charges

Posted:
Michael Paladino (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office) Michael Paladino (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)
'It is estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits across the United States,' according to EndTheBacklog.org. (Source: 3TV/KPHO) 'It is estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits across the United States,' according to EndTheBacklog.org. (Source: 3TV/KPHO)
Michael Paladino (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office) Michael Paladino (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

A rape kit that sat on a shelf for a dozen years just put a valley man behind bars.

A Maricopa County grand jury indicted 28-year-old Michael Paladino on six counts of sexual assault

The push to get through the county's backlog of 4,500 untested kits was made possible by a federal grant last year. 

"One of the goals was to find these serial cases," says Jessye Johnson with the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. 

That's exactly what happened, according to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

Between 2003 and 2006, six girls, many of them minors, claimed Paladino sexually assaulted them.

Police documents show more than one of the victims told police the suspect told them he was "going to rape her" if she did would not have sex with him. 

According to police documents, only of the alleged victims had a rape kit done, but she did not want to participate one-party consent call with police listening in, so the case was dropped. 

"Folks who are victimized or folks who were raped is a very traumatic thing and everybody's going to respond to that trauma in a very different way," said Johnson. 

At the time, Paladino was going by the name Mike Smith. He changed his last name to Paladino in 2011. That kit was stored in evidence until a large grant made it possible for the County to begin testing all waiting kits, connecting Paladino to the assault. 

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office says combined with the five additional reports the case was strong enough to prosecute

When police arrested Paladino on an unrelated driving offense on Nov. 29, investigators questioned him about the sexual assaults. He denied any involvement.

“We now have the necessary investigative findings to be able to move forward with criminal charges and hold this defendant accountable for his actions,” Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in a news release. “This is the seventh indictment from our office where testing has identified a suspect in an unsolved sex assault case.”

Paladino himself would have been in his mid-teens.

Juvenile courts no longer have jurisdiction over a defendant after the age of 18," Maricopa County Attorney's Office spokeswoman Amanda Jacinto said in response to a question from Arizona's Family. "Given his current age he is being charged as an adult. "

[RELATED: Test of old rape kit leads to another victim of Baseline Killer]

The sex assault kit that led to Paladino’s indictment is one of thousands to languish for years in evidence lockers all over the state. That problem is a national one.

[READ: Arizona law enforcement revising stance on rape kits]

“It is estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits across the United States,” according to EndTheBacklog.org.

In March, just a month before MCAO learned of the kit matching Paladino's DNA, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law mandating that rape kits be tested “in a timely manner.”

The issue of untested rape kits has been high on Ducey’s agenda, so much so that he put together a special task force in January 2016 to handle the backlog.

[READ: Ducey appoints task force on clearing backlog of rape kits]

Grant funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance Sex Assault Kit Initiative program provides funds to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office for a dedicated detective to assist in investigations related to previously untested sexual assault kits,” according to MCAO. “This detective was asked to lead the multi-jurisdiction investigation into the sexual assaults involving Paladino. The detective’s investigation allowed prosecutors to establish a link in the separate cases and secure an indictment for the sexual assaults.”

[READ MORE: DOJ grant seen slashing AZ backlog of untested sex assault test kits (Oct. 4, 2016)]

[RELATED: Arizona agencies get funding to cut backlog of rape evidence (Sept. 14, 2015)]

A spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said that Paladino is in custody and due back in court on Jan. 29.

[PDF: Final Release Order for Michael Paladino]

[PDF: Form IV for Michael Paladino]

[PDF: Probable cause statement for Michael Paladino]

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