Sunday, August 8, 2004

Ohio paying for DNA tests on felons from victims' fund

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - The Ohio attorney general's office said it is using money from the state's Crime Victims Compensation Fund to pay for analysis of more than 19,000 DNA samples from convicted felons.

The samples have been accumulating in a vault. The office decided to dip into the fund for $571,000 to process the samples after waiting for promised federal funding that was expected in June but never showed up, said Kim Norris, spokeswoman for Attorney General Jim Petro.

The state has contracted with out-of-state labs for the processing

The contracts require the private labs to process and return most of the samples within 30 days so profiles can be entered into state and national databases.

The FBI's Combined DNA Index System allows local, state and federal crime labs to exchange and compare DNA profiles. Prison inmates convicted of serious felonies, such as murder or sex crimes, must give a sample.

Authorities can use the database to match DNA from crime scenes to that of convicted offenders. But when processing is delayed, investigators say crimes can sit unsolved and repeat offenders can be released to offend again.

The attorney general's move will allow mouth-swab DNA data from 19,271 convicted offenders to be added to the database.

Sgt. David Pelphrey of the Columbus Police Division's sexual-abuse unit said that could help investigators.

"We may not get any hits off of it, or we may get a bunch," he said of the backlog. "The statistical reality is, a bigger database increases the chances of solving crimes."

The DNA backlog gained attention in June when Columbus police arrested Robert N. Patton Jr. in connection with dozens of rapes in the Linden neighborhood on the city's east side.

He was arrested based on DNA taken more than two years ago that was finally entered into the state database. Police linked him to the crimes within hours.

Patton was indicted June 18 in the rapes of 37 women, 13 of whom were attacked while his DNA sample sat waiting to be processed.

Patton's DNA was part of 11,000 convicted-offender samples that accumulated after a federal grant for Ohio expired in mid-2001.

The state hired a lab in Utah to process the samples beginning in March with money from a new federal grant.

But that grant applied to DNA taken from inmates only through blood samples, not mouth swabs, Norris said. Federal funding for the mouth-swab backlog was expected in June but hasn't arrived.

The DNA backlog is a nationwide problem that the Bush administration last year proposed solving with $1 billion in federal funding over five years.

But states can't afford to allow DNA samples to go unprocessed while waiting for money, said Chris Asplen, who served as executive director of the U.S. attorney general's National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence.

"The bottom line is, you've got to find a way," he said. "The federal government can't solve every state's problems. Someday, the federal government won't be making this kind of funding available. The states will have to find a way to fund it."

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