CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There is a major break in a cold case involving two teenage girls who were raped a few years apart, in 1988 and 1994.
A suspect, Zellie Edwards, is in custody after police say they confirmed DNA evidence from a rape kit.
The Defenders team started asking questions a few years ago about why hundreds of rate kits were not tested. In 2015, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department changed its policy to test every rape kit.
Now, NBC Charlotte has learned CMPD has sent more than 1,100 rape kits to be tested.
They say the latest arrest is proof, it makes a big difference.
“That led us to arrest and charge Mr. Zellie Edwards,” says Lt. Melanie Peacock of CMPD.
CMPD said they linked his DNA to the rape of two teenage girls, ages 16 and 17, in 1988 and 1994.
“(They were) walking home, encountered an unknown suspect to them, and they were attacked and sexually assaulted,” Lt. Peacock said.
The Defenders team began investigating the issue of rape kits several years ago, revealing how hundreds of those kits at CMPD went untested for as long as a decade.
At the time, a victim shared her story with NBC Charlotte. She was raped in 1979 at the age of 20.
“He was in my home right there and grabbed me and he had a ski mask on,” she told NBC Charlotte.
DNA evidence from a rape kit linked Jerry Brooks, dubbed the "ski mask rapist," to the crime.
“It solved my case and the case of my group of women,” the woman told NBC Charlotte previously.
At the time, the Defenders team asked CMPD how they decide which rape kits to test. They told NBC Charlotte they did not have a written policy. However, that changed in 2015. After the Defenders investigation, CMPD created a new policy to test all rape kits.
“Literally, overnight we create sort of a backlog, that our lab is doing the best they can,” Lt. Peacock said.
CMPD tells NBC Charlotte federal grant money has paid for 1,185 to be tested. Of those, 817 have been resolved; the others are still pending.
“We need additional resources to get justice for these victims,” Lt. Peacock said.
Police say the grant money is already giving the two victims of Zellie Edwards, peace of mind.
“Each made the comment they were glad they weren’t forgotten about,” says Lt. Peacock.
CMPD says they’ve used two grants so far and they’re working on a third grant to pay for more testing right now.