When he pardoned Lesly Jean, an ex-Marine who served nine years for a rape he did not commit, North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley asked law-enforcement officials to reopen the case in hopes of finding the real rapist. Easley wanted the DNA profile of the victim’s attacker sent to databases to compare it with the genetic profiles of more than 1.5 million convicted criminals, a step that requires just a few keystrokes on a computer, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Almost three years later, officials concede the profile was never sent. The investigation was not reopened. The case remains unsolved. “I don’t understand it,” said G. Dewey Hudson, district attorney for Onslow County, where the rape occurred. “Damn, there is a real rapist who could be committing more crimes.”
In the past 15 years, DNA testing has emerged as a revolutionary forensic tool. A Tribune investigation shows that law-enforcement authorities are still struggling–and in some cases refusing–to exploit DNA technology fully.
The Tribune examined every case in the U.S. where DNA testing has freed a convicted inmate, focusing on 115 murders and rapes where the release left a crime unsolved. In some of those cases, DNA was quickly used to link known suspects to the crime. But in 44 of the remaining 97 cases, authorities have not followed up by submitting the genetic profile of the suspected perpetrator to the FBI’s national DNA database, a law-enforcement tool that has been used to link more than 8,600 convicted felons to other crimes.
“There’s absolutely no excuse for not putting the sample into any database to find out who did it,” said Robert McCulloch, president of the National District Attorneys Association, which represents more than 2,300 chief prosecutors. “You don’t want the wrong guy in prison and the right guy walking the streets.”
The failure to seek a DNA match is surprising given that in the cases where DNA was submitted, genetic profiling identified the real criminal more than 40 percent of the time. Sometimes there are legal bars to prosecution because the crimes are too old, or DNA profiles developed by outdated methods are not retested. The Tribune review found that the search for the real culprit has been thwarted by bureaucratic infighting that bars from the database test results from one of the nation’s premier DNA scientists.
Some law-enforcement authorities refuse to submit DNA profiles because they continue to believe that freed defendants are guilty.