The arrest of a Louisiana serial killing suspect in Georgia is likely to underscore the case for collecting DNA samples from crime suspects. Sid Hebert, sheriff of Louisiana’s Iberia Parish, told The Advocate in Baton Rouge that the use of DNA to make an arrest in the cases reinforces his office’s program to take genetic samples from anyone convicted or arrested for specific crimes.
DNA evidence was developed to link Derrick Todd Lee of St. Francisville, La., to the murders of five women since September 2001. Lee was arrested last night in Atlanta after an extensive search. Hebert said if DNA sampling of arrestees and convicted defendants had been available statewide a decade ago, it could have led to Lee’s identification sooner.
Lee’s criminal record includes the 1993 burglary of a home where an elderly man was beaten and robbed. He was convicted. Louisiana requires all those convicted of a felony sex offense or violent crime to provide swabs of DNA evidence.
“If he had been tested in ’93, he’d be in the database,” the sheriff said.
In November, Hebert’s office started sampling DNA of people booked into the parish jail on sex-related and violent felonies and some misdemeanors, such as simple battery and stalking. The samples are taken weekly to the State Police Crime Lab for processing and the DNA profiles are compiled in a computer maintained by State Police and available to the FBI. The sheriff said DNA from a crime scene can be compared to the database profiles to find a match, but so far no crimes have been solved with the system.
State Sen. Jay Dardenne, R-Baton Rouge, wants to increase the list of crimes for DNA samples to be taken from arrestees and convicted defendants to include incest, prostitution-related offenses and for out-of-state inmates brought to Louisiana. A legislative analysis estimates it would cost $4.8 million a year for a statewide DNA sampling program; some of that cost could be offset by charging defendants and arrestees $250 each for the expense.
In Georgia, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says that Gov. Sonny Perdue signed legislation yesterday expanding the use of genetic testing in criminal appeals.
The measure gives those convicted of violent crimes the right under certain circumstances to ask for a new trial if the perpetrator’s identity was an issue during the trial; it is reasonable to believe that DNA test results would have affected the outcome; reliable results can be extracted from evidence, and the evidence was not tested previously.