Rape arrest off DNA match may be PBSO’s first from 1,500-case backlog

A $1 million project begun in 2015 by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office to clear a backlog of about 1,500 unanalyzed rape evidence kits may have produced its first arrest.

Michael Carter, a 40-year-old man who has spent much of the past two decades in prison, was arrested Thursday in connection with a 2007 rape of a woman on the shoulder of Interstate 95 in West Palm Beach.

The cold case was reactivated in August 2017 — more than a decade following the alleged attack — after DNA was found on a FBI database connecting Carter to the crime.

Read the Post’s investigation into PBSO’s $1 million rape kit testing

As of March, 994 rape kits had been processed, producing 140 DNA matches to suspects in a national crime database and definitive leads in 82 cases. PBSO officials predicted in June “a positive outcome for the victims and the community” in some of those cases.

But until Carter’s arrest, no one had been been taken into custody. 

Carter was handed over to PBSO deputies Thursday, a day after he completed a prison sentence for gun and drug convictions.

Carter was booked into the Palm Beach County Jail on charges of sexual assault, kidnapping and aggravated battery using a deadly weapon. Judge Dina Keever-Agrama ordered that Carter be held without bond.

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On April 17, 2007, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper found a 31-year-old woman screaming that she had been raped on the shoulder of northbound I-95 near Forest Hill Boulevard, according to an arrest report.

The woman told investigators she had completed a shift at Flashdance, a Palm Springs-area nightclub, when a co-worker asked Carter to give the victim, who did not have a car, a ride home.

Noticing that she was not being driven to her residence, the woman questioned Carter, who responded by pulling over to the side of I-95 and beginning his alleged attack, the report said.

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The woman said she attempted to get out of the vehicle, but that Carter slammed the passenger door on both of her hands.

“You’re not going anywhere ... ,” Carter allegedly said.

Carter allegedly punched the woman in the face and maintained a forearm against her woman’s neck as he sexually assaulted her.

The victim managed to get out of the vehicle, but Carter caught up to her and allegedly tried to throw her over a guard rail from an embankment, the report said.

Carter repeatedly punched the woman in the face and body, then stomped on her head after she fell to the ground, investigators were told.

In April, a PBSO detective spoke to Carter at the Sago Palms Re-Entry Center in Pahokee. Carter said he was in jail in April 2007 and “couldn’t have raped anybody.”

But Carter’s criminal history and court records shows that he was not in custody at the date of the sexual assault.

Carter has been convicted and sentenced to prison three times since 2001 on charges including armed burglary, aggravated battery on a law-enforcement officer and resisting arrest with violence. 

A PBSO official was not able to confirm Friday that Carter is connected to the program to clear the backlog of unanalyzed rape kits.

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An audit published in January 2017 revealed more than 13,000 untested rape kits in Florida, including 1,800 in Palm Beach County, some of them more than 40 years old. That caused state legislators to enact a law requiring police to submit rape kits for testing within 30 days and crime labs to test them within 120 days.

A Palm Beach Post review found that detectives cleared 62 of the 82 cases without ever contacting a suspect.

A victim’s refusal to participate in the original criminal investigation was the most common reason PBSO cited for leaving the rape kits untested. Advocates for victims, prosecutors and defense attorneys urged renewed outreach, cautioning that using the victim’s decisions at the height of their trauma is wrong. Florida law does not require contact with survivors.

In 2015, before the state audit was published, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw set aside $1 million to process the untested the kits at a cost of at least $645 per kit.

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