DNA work by the State Bureau of Investigation laboratory resulted in 420 hits to the DNA database in 2010, a record number of matches to help local law enforcement solve murders, rapes and other crimes across the state. The database is expected to be even more help as it begins to include some arrestee samples this month.
“This good work by the SBI DNA unit takes criminals off our streets, exonerates the innocent and brings justice to victims and their families,” Attorney General Roy Cooper said Wednesday.
At year’s end, the North Carolina DNA database contained more than 200,000 profiles and had helped to solve more than 1,900 cases since its inception. The SBI had more hits to the DNA database in 2010 than in the first ten years of the DNA program combined. The database includes profiles from all convicted felons and will soon grow to include certain arrestees.
Starting February 1, a new state law backed by Cooper allows law enforcement to collect DNA upon certain violent felony and misdemeanor arrests for inclusion in the database. The law is projected to help solve up to 100 cold cases in the first year.
Among the cold cases solved in 2010 using DNA was the 1984 murder of a seven-year-old girl in Orange County. Analysis of old evidence in the case generated a match to suspect George Fisher, who was serving prison time for the 1985 murder of another child. Local authorities suspected Fisher in the 1984 killing but could not link him to the case at the time. Faced with DNA evidence, Fisher pleaded guilty in September and was sentenced to two life terms, just two months before he would have been eligible for parole from his other conviction.
“Using science and technology helps law enforcement get to the truth and solve cases,” said SBI Director Greg McLeod. “Our successes with DNA show the importance of the SBI lab’s work in the fight against crime.”
The SBI lab maintains the state’s DNA database and provides law enforcement with analysis of evidence that may contain DNA. Federally qualified auditors performed two separate on-site reviews of the laboratory’s DNA work in late 2010. Results of those audits are pending. Over the last 20 years, 19 previous audits have found the SBI’s DNA unit to meet national standards set by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
North Carolina’s lab will begin operating under the highest international forensic laboratory standards in the world in early 2011 as the entire lab including the DNA unit pursues international ISO accreditation.
DNA evidence recovered from crime scenes can be compared to DNA profiles of suspects developed by local investigators and also used to search for a hit, or match, to a profile already in the database. A hit to the database can help law enforcement solve a case with no known suspects and can also clear wrongly accused suspects. More hits are expected as DNA from arrestees is added to the database.
According to the new state law, samples from certain arrestees will be gathered by cheek cell collector, analyzed and then uploaded by the SBI to the state and national DNA databases. If an arrestee isn’t convicted or the case is dismissed, the arrestee’s sample may be eligible for removal.
North Carolina’s database is part of a national DNA database called CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), which is overseen by the FBI. Across the country, more than 20 other states and the federal government have also passed laws that allow them to collect DNA samples from arrestees, and courts have upheld the practice as constitutional.
Forensic scientists from the SBI lab have conducted 15 training sessions across the state through the North Carolina Justice Academy to help law enforcement agencies prepare to implement the new law.
“We’re continuing our push to give law enforcement full access to the latest DNA technology to help solve crime,” Cooper said.