Man pleads guilty to pair of 2015 sexual assaults at Duke hospital and Durham trail

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A Durham County court sentenced a man to up to 24 years in prison Monday for a pair of 6-year-old sexual assaults solved as investigators continue to work through a backlog of untested rape kits.

Emanuel Burch, 33, pleaded guilty to felony and misdemeanor charges in attacks on two women in Durham occurring just months apart in 2015.

In the first incident in September 2015, a woman reported that a man approached her from behind in a Duke University Medical Center bathroom, choking her until she went unconscious. Another woman reported a similar assault in mid-November 2015 while walking home on the Ellerbe Creek Trail.

Surveillance video from the hospital and suspect descriptions showed commonalities between both attacks.

But investigators didn’t file charges against Burch until January 2020 after they tested a rape kit in September 2019 from the Ellerbe Creek Trail case, according to a news release.

Investigators matched Burch to the Duke Medical Center case in 2020. During the attack, the woman scratched her attacker’s arms, according to a release. Investigators matched a DNA sample from the woman’s fingernails to Burch, a release said.

Durham County Superior Court Judge James Hardin sentenced Burch to 16 to 24 years in prison and ordered him not to contact either victim.

Untested rape kit backlog

Across the state, North Carolina’s count of untested rape kits once topped 16,000 — one of the largest backlogs in the country, The News & Observer reported in 2018.

Attorney General Josh Stein told legislative leaders earlier this year that more than half of those kits had been completely tested under a renewed effort to solve assaults that in some cases date back decades.

In Durham, efforts to process the backlog have been buoyed by more than $1 million in grants to tackle cold cases and add resources for newly reported assaults.

According to a release from Durham District Attorney Satana Deberry’s office, Burch is one of more than a dozen people charged as investigators process and review evidence from previously untested sexual assault kits. That initiative, which began in early 2019, involves the Durham Police Department’s Cold Case Sexual Assault Unit, the Durham district attorney’s office and the Durham Crisis Response Center.

Deberry’s office said four people, including Burch, have been convicted in incidents involving six sexual assaults.

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