Louisiana Labs Getting Millions for DNA Backlog

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State crime labs across Louisiana have secured more than $3 million to help eliminate a backlog of DNA samples from unsolved rapes, and more money might be coming, The Advocate reports in Baton Rouge. About 3,100 DNA samples from unsolved rape cases have not been processed. In April, the Legislature allocated $650,000 to clear about a third of those cases.

Another $2.5 million from the U.S. Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice is expected to help clear the rest, said Anne Montgomery of the Jefferson Parish Crime Lab.

U.S. Rep. David Vitter, R-Metairie, hopes a bill he introduced will bring another $1 million to five state crime labs by early October. The “Emergency DNA Backlog Elimination and Self Defense from Serial Killers Act of 2003” has passed the U.S. House of Representatives, Vitter said, and the final version is being negotiated with the Senate.

Ray Wickenheiser, director of the Acadiana Criminalistics Laboratory in New Iberia, said the new equipment that could be purchased under Vitter’s bill would increase his lab’s ability to process DNA samples fivefold. Vitter announced his bill on May 12, when authorities were hunting a man who killed at least six south Louisiana women between September 2001 and March 2003. Two weeks later, police arrested Derrick Todd Lee, 34, of St. Francisville in connection with the crimes. Police have said DNA evidence links Lee to the crimes. His murder trial in the May 2002 slaying of Charlotte Murray Pace is scheduled to begin in March.

Vitter’s bill also proposes $232 million to clear about 500,000 DNA samples from unsolved crimes nationwide. The first wave of money would go to communities facing serial killings or prosecuting serial killings, he said.

Link: http://www.2theadvocate.com/stories/081203/new_dna001.shtml

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