Sunday, June 13, 2004

Ohio short on money to process felons' DNA

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - The state doesn't have the money to process about 14,000 mouth swabs taken from convicted felons in Ohio, preventing the DNA samples from being entered into the FBI's national database.

Federal funding for the program expired in mid-2001 and wasn't restored until March, Attorney General Jim Petro said.

The restored funding enabled the state to process a backlog of 6,003 blood samples from convicted felons, but didn't provide money for the mouth swabs.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction began taking mouth swabs for DNA tests late last year.

The attorney general's office failed to get permission from the U.S. Justice Department to use other DNA-related funds to begin processing the swabs, Petro spokeswoman Kim Norris said.

Two Democratic state senators sent a letter Friday to the Republican attorney general, expressing concern about the backlog of DNA samples.

"It is our understanding that you have made several requests of the state controlling board for funds to reduce the backlogs of DNA records in need of analysis, and that each of those requests was granted," Sens. Ray Miller of Columbus and Robert Hagan of Youngstown wrote.

"We're outraged by it," Miller said.

Jim Canepa, an assistant attorney general, said the office never sought state funds for processing the samples but is seeking federal grants.

Columbus police mentioned the backlog last week when they arrested a suspect in a series of rapes in the Linden neighborhood on the city's east side.

Robert N. Patton Jr., 40, was charged with one count of rape, and police said his DNA sample matched evidence gathered from a dozen rapes committed over the last 13 years.

Patton, who has been convicted of aggravated burglary, attempted burglary, burglary and theft since 1983, had DNA taken in September 2001 while in Orient Correctional Institution. He was arrested last Monday after the sample was entered into the database.

Ohio began collecting DNA from sex offenders and other violent felons in 1997 but did not link its database with the FBI's until February 2001.

The database allows federal, state and local crime labs to exchange and compare DNA profiles in an effort to link crimes to previously convicted offenders.

Processing the DNA is expensive, costing $500 or more to analyze a rape kit, according to the National Rape Evidence Project.

The Bush administration has pushed Congress for funding to speed processing of the samples nationwide. Petro's office submitted applications for funding after the president in January signed a bill appropriating $100 million to the Justice Department for the work.

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