The parents and sister of murder victim Katie Sepich were joined by author James Tillman in presenting Utah State Representative Steve Eliason with the “Katie’s Hero Award”.
The Katie’s Hero Award is an honor bestowed by the Sepich’s non-profit advocacy group DNA Saves on individuals for leadership in solving and preventing crime by supporting legislation to expand the use of forensic DNA technology. According to the certificate of award, Representative Eliason was selected for his strong support of HB212 in 2014 to require DNA upon all felony arrests in Utah, to ensure law enforcement is not unwittingly releasing repeat offenders back into the community.
Jayann Sepich, co-founder and president of DNA Saves, introduced the award and 2015 recipients at a Forensic DNA Luncheon event held concurrently during the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislators (held this year in Seattle).
In presenting the award, Ms. Sepich said, “The enactment of HB212 will have a profound and lasting impact on public safety in Utah. Representative Eliason’s leadership on this issue will result in getting many rapists and other violent criminals off the streets, and will prevent additional Utah residents from being needlessly victimized.”
The keynote speaker at the luncheon was James Tillman, who spent 18 and a half years in prison convicted of a rape he did not commit until he was exonerated by DNA evidence. Tillman, the author of the book “The Power of Conviction”, addressed the crowd of 100 legislators and their guests, representing twenty-six states. He stated, “Arrestee DNA legislation is needed in every state to make our communities safer places to live.”
DNA Saves is a non-profit association organized to educate policy makers and the public about the value of forensic DNA. Jayann and Dave Sepich formed the association in late 2008, marking the five-year anniversary of the senseless murder of their daughter, Katie. DNA Saves is committed to working with every state to pass laws allowing DNA to be taken upon arrest, and to provide meaningful funding for DNA programs.
Had a DNA sample been taken from Katie's murderer, Gabriel Avilla, upon arrest for an unrelated crime, the Sepichs would have discovered who killed their daughter only three months after her death. Instead, Avilla remained free to victimize more unsuspecting daughters, while the Sepichs waited for answers. The Sepichs hope that by advocating for better DNA testing laws they can prevent another mother and father from asking "why?"