Charges filed in 2006 rape case after DNA evidence goes untested

Hennepin County prosecutors have charged a man with rape 17 years after an alleged attack in south Minneapolis.

Clinton Barret Copher made his first court appearance Friday on a count of third-degree Criminal Sexual Conduct.

According to court documents, Copher met a woman on April 28, 2006. They ended up in a car together on the 2500 block of Blaisdell Avenue when the woman attempted to flee. That is when Copher violently assaulted her. 

A witness came out of a house on the block when they heard the screaming and called 911.

But according to court records, DNA evidence in a sexual assault kit sat untested for years.

Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty has told FOX 9 that it does not matter how old a case may be, if a crime occurred, her office will hold offenders accountable.

"If we are able to prove that a crime, a sexual assault happened, whenever it happened, we will go forward with that case if we are able to prove it and get justice for that victim," Moriarty told FOX 9’s Paul Blume on May 23, following a prior cold case rape conviction.

It is not clear from publicly available records why the sexual assault kit in this particular Minneapolis Police Department case sat untested for so long.
In 2020, a DNA swab was sent to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension lab as part of a joint-City of Minneapolis sexual assault kit initiative (SAKI) to get untested evidence reviewed for potential prosecutions.

According to the charges, the DNA from the alleged rape matched to Copher as did a license plate and vehicle the witness reportedly watched Copher drive away in following the attack.

Copher has a prior conviction for sexual assault that required he submit his DNA back in 2011, meaning it is possible he could have been identified by forensic evidence, at least a dozen years ago.

Victim-survivor advocates have said timely testing is critical.

"In the current situation that we are in, we are waiting much longer for DNA results, which really has an impact on access to justice for victim-survivors and on public safety," Kate Hannaher, Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault Staff Attorney told Blume last month.

Authorities have said there are several reasons why a rape kit might have gone untested for such a long period of time, including victim-survivors having second thoughts, getting scared or embarrassed, leaving investigators unable to follow-up after the initial report is taken, and evidence gathered. 

In May, the BCA reported there were 621 untested rape kits across the state of Minnesota with an average turnaround time of 124 days. 

A legislative effort to mandate that number get capped at 90 days was unsuccessful at the Capitol in this most recent session.