Kansas rape survivors received no notification about offender's earlier release date
LAWRENCE, Kan. (KMBC) -- A man initially sentenced to 48 years in prison for brutally raping two women in Lawrence, Kansas, will be released after 18 years behind bars.
Cory Elkins was convicted in 2008 on four counts of rape and three counts of aggravated criminal sodomy for the rapes that happened in the mid-1990s.
He was also accused of raping a third woman in Lawrence.
The Douglas County District Attorney had DNA evidence linking Elkins to the rape but could not bring charges because the statute of limitations had expired.
Elkins is now set to be released in 2025 after his attorneys with the University of Kansas Law School Project for Innocence argued his original sentence was illegal based on an unrelated burglary charge being misclassified. One of the women he was convicted of raping and his third accuser are coming forward after they were never notified of his earlier release date or any of his resentencing hearings.
"We’ve thought all along he would be close to 80 when he was released. And now, he’s going to be younger than 60. That’s a big difference," A survivor we are identifying as Sasha said.
She only found out about the earlier release date after checking the Kansas Department of Corrections website.
"I was dumbfounded," she said. "I was completely shocked. I got on the phone and started calling people."
But finding answers proved to be complicated. It took weeks of calling until someone with the Douglas County District Attorney's office took a meeting with her.
"I received an apology. That the Assistant District Attorney had made the decision not to notify us because it might open up old wounds. And again, I was beyond shocked," she said. "I don’t think it’s right."
Kansas state law does include what is called the "Bill of Rights for Victims of Crimes." That statute includes a provision that states, "Information should be made available to victims about their participation in criminal proceedings and the scheduling, progress and ultimate disposition of the proceedings."
The Douglas County District Attorney's office refused our multiple requests for an interview but did provide statements about what happened.
In an email, the office called the bill of rights "advisory in nature" and that the office "strives to lessen the impact of victimization on survivors in every case."
In further emailed statements, the office explained, "The victim witness coordinator made an extraordinary exception by recommending that we not provide notifications out of concern that we would be retraumatizing the victims." And added, "Our team works to ensure that no one is further victimized in the wake of a crime. This means we make decisions by evaluating each individual case and by following trauma-informed best practices."
But advocates with the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA) say being truly trauma-informed means providing crucial information about cases to survivors.
"Being trauma-informed is a term that gets used very broadly, but at its core, it means that we recognize trauma impacts every survivor differently," MOSCA Director of Advocacy Victoria Pickering said. "The only person who knows the impact that new information or changes will have on that survivor is the survivor themselves. So, being trauma-informed means providing the survivor with the critical information that they need to make the decisions that are right for them and then honoring those decisions."
Pickering says the survivor's main goal should remain on healing. And anytime they have to reengage in the criminal justice system because their requests aren't honored, it can cause additional trauma.
"Not being notified when you specifically asked to be notified of any changes or updates to the case can definitely cause harm to a survivor," she said. "It can break down the trust that that survivor may have had in the system."
Sasha believes the system did fail on several levels. No one from the courts, the district attorney's office, or the KU Law School Project for Innocence informed them of the changes in their case. She specifically questions why attorneys with the Project for Innocence would take on the case of a serial rapist who was convicted based on DNA evidence.
"The fact that it’s called the Innocence Project, you think their goal would be to help people that are wrongfully convicted. Not people who are lawfully convicted who have served time for rape," she said. "We want answers. We want to know why this particular case was taken on."
KMBC 9 tried to get those answers, but multiple requests over several weeks to the University and the Law School were never returned.
The third victim that Elkins' DNA was connected to, but the statute of limitations prevented the case from being prosecuted, is a University of Kansas alumnus and believes there needs to be more scrutiny on the clients the school's Project for Innocence takes on.
"Why would they take this case," The woman we are identifying as Kerry said. "I just don’t understand what their motivation was or how they can feel this is for the greater good. I’m very disillusioned. This is the school I graduated from, and I am really proud to be part of, and now I don’t know that I feel that way."
The women also hope lawmakers will consider tightening the language in the Kansas statute known as the "Kanas Crime Victim Bill of Rights." They believe it should not be "advisory in nature" and instead should require the criminal justice system to keep victims informed about their cases.
"It bothers me because the victims are supposed to have some rights," said Sasha. "But it seems that the perpetrator is being treated better than we are."
At MOCSA, Pickering says not only is it best practice to notify victims about an earlier release, but it can be dangerous if they aren't.
"That offender may know where that survivor lives, where they work, where they go to school. And not knowing that somebody is being released could pose incredible physical danger to that survivor," she said.
Pickering says MOCSA works with court systems and prosecutors in both Kansas and Missouri to make sure these best practices are followed, especially when it comes to victims' rights and their right to be notified, but admits more work may need to be done.
"It is unfortunate that that is not quite as solid of a right as we think we all believed it to be," Pickering said.
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