Melissa’s Bill: Teen’s Rape-Murder Spurs Legislation

gelserOn March 2, the Oregon House passed Melissa’s Bill, a measure which will allow rape kits in the state of Oregon to be tested in a timely manner, while sourcing state funds to hire additional lab technicians to test new rape kits.

In 2001, 14-year-old Melissa Bittler was abducted by a serial rapist and held in a neighbor’s backyard where she was raped, sodomized, and then killed while on her way to school in her southeast Portland neighborhood.

If it had existed at the time, Melissa’s Law, created by Senate Bill 1571, would have ensured that two preexisting rape kits— both of which later showed that the man who murdered Melissa had raped at least two other teens years earlier— would have been tested sooner, thus placing the rapist at the scene of the earlier crimes and indicting him instead of being left for over four years on evidence shelves.

Melissa’s parents, Mary and Tom Bittler, called upon the Oregon House and Senate to pass the bill after creating a petition online which explained that with necessary changes in Oregon’s criminal justice system, tragedies similar to their daughter’s murder could potentially be prevented.

SB 1571 was sponsored by Corvallis’ State Senator Sara Gelser and supported unanimously by the State Senate on Feb. 26 and then passed the House, also unanimously, on March 2.

Melissa’s Bill directs Oregon police labs to prioritize testing of rape kits containing traces of blood, hair, saliva, and/or semen, requiring police agencies to pick up rape kits from hospitals within seven days of notification. Kits must be submitted to crime labs for testing within 14 days. The bill also states that $1.5 million in Oregon public funds will be allocated to hire nine new DNA and biology-evidence technicians at the Portland police district to assist in processing new rape kits.

Melissa’s Bill is currently waiting  to be signed by Governor Kate Brown, after which the bill will become state law.

By Kiki Genoa

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