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Santa Monica Rape Victim Pushes State Bill

By Teresa Rochester

For most of her life documentary filmmaker Karen Pomer fought for causes that didn't directly affect her. That changed in the weeks following the night of Oct. 3, 1995 when Pomer was raped in her car outside of her Santa Monica home by alleged "South Side Rapist" Israel Hardin.

Pomer, now a rape victim activist, along with other survivors of rape, scored a tentative victory in Sacramento last week when Gov. Gray Davis approved a bill that will extend indefinitely the statute of limitations for rapes when DNA evidence is present. The law, authored by Assemblyman Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, sets the statute of limitations for rapes without DNA evidence at 10 years.

"I think it's model legislation," said Pomer, who plans to be in Sacramento next week when the bill goes before Davis. "It's very, very difficult to make an eye witness identification."

Whether or not the bill, AB 1342, will ever be enacted remains to be seen. Its fate hinges on the fate of another DNA crime related bill authored by Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, which Davis has yet to approve.

For months state lawmakers, the state attorney general and law enforcement agencies have wrangled over the breadth of the bill that would help courts determine when jailed felons could obtain post-conviction DNA testing. Critics feared that Correa's bill would cause courts to be flooded with testing requests.

On Wednesday of last week, lawmakers finally worked out an agreement on the measure, which has not yet been voted on by the full Assembly. The new language allows post-conviction testing when the results could either determine the prisoner's innocence or change the length of the prisoner's jail sentence.

The bill also limits tests to felons already behind bars and requires the court to determine that the request wasn't made as a delay tactic.

While Davis has not given any indication that he will sign the bill, Pomer who founded and heads the Rainbow Sisters Project, a national organization of rape survivors, hopes that he does.

"I hope the governor becomes a hero in signing this," Pomer said.

Pomer and fellow Rainbow Sisters member Jeri Elster were testifying in Sacramento before the Senate Public Safety Committee on behalf of Correa's bill when they decided to offer their support to Burton's bill as well.

Pomer said she was moved to support the bill after hearing of a rape victim who misidentified her assailant, who was subsequently convicted. The woman was devastated and guilt ridden when she learned the wrong man had been convicted.

"We felt it was important to identify the guilty as well as free the innocent," said Pomer. "Just because you're a victim of rape, due process should not be thrown out."

Pomer and other rape survivors who attended counseling at Santa Monica Rape Counseling Center founded the Rainbow Sisters Project. The group came up with the name because the women represented a cross-section of all races. Last year the Rainbow Sisters project coordinated a rally and conference at the Los Angeles Central Library, which drew 400 survivors, their families and politicians.

Pomer also has been instrumental in changing the way the Santa Monica Police Department deals with rape cases. Rape victims are now able to have a counselor present when they are being interviewed by police. The way evidence is collected also has changed.

In Dec. Of 1996 Pomer's story was told on NBC's "Dateline."

Along with Correa's bill the enactment of another bill by Assemblyman Mike Machado, D-Linden, depends on the passage of SB 1342. Machado's bill, which was also approved last week, allows the attorney general's office to use DNA profiles taken from suspected criminals to check against other unsolved crimes.

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