It took five years to get Howard Godfrey’s DNA entered into a database at Vermont’s state crime lab – and just five days after that for police to conclude he had committed a murder that gone unsolved since 1991, reports the Associated Press. The episode illustrates both the remarkable power of DNA and the huge laboratory backlogs across the nation that are undercutting its crime-solving value. A December 2003 report by the consulting firm Smith Alling Lane estimated there were almost 550,000 DNA samples from crime scenes and from convicted criminals in the U.S. awaiting processing.
The backlog is blamed on a shortage of money and staff. Samples taken from convicted felons to be added to the database cost about $50 each to process. Samples taken from crime scenes could be processed and even matched in a matter of days, but instead can take several months because of the heavy workload. A February report by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that 1,900 additional full-time lab workers at a cost of $70 million would be needed to reduce the backlog in forensic laboratories to 30 days for both DNA samples and other crime lab work, which includes fingerprint and fiber analysis and ballistics. Two years ago, the U.S. Justice Department launched a five-year $1 billion initiative to clear the backlog.