Texas legislators accused local officials of a “lack of urgency” about problems at the Houston Police Department crime lab yesterday as they discussed enacting sweeping reforms statewide, says the Houston Chronicle. Members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee received a status report on efforts to restore HPD’s crime lab, where DNA testing has been suspended for two years and other divisions also have come under scrutiny. Senators outlined issues they plan to examine during the legislative session that begins next week. Among them are greater oversight of all crime labs in Texas and the creation of regional labs that would be independent of law enforcement agencies.
Senators John Whitmire and Rodney Ellis questioned Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal’s refusal to support a moratorium on executions in seven murder cases after the discovery of mislabeled evidence. “We know that nothing in any of these boxes pertains to any death-penalty cases,” said Rosenthal, who added that he is confident enough to sleep. “HPD has unopened boxes of evidence,” Whitmire replied. “That ought to keep you up at night.” HPD’s DNA division has been closed since December 2002 after an outside audit revealed major problems, including a poorly trained staff and possible contamination of evidence. Retesting was ordered for DNA evidence in almost 400 cases. The tests raised questions in dozens of convictions; one man has been freed from prison as a result.