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AG Cooper urges legislators to give law enforcers more DNA help

Release date: 6/10/2004

Raleigh: Attorney General Roy Cooper today urged legislators to keep working to expand North Carolina’s ability to use DNA evidence to convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent.

Cooper is asking legislators for and Governor Mike Easley has recommended six more agents and an evidence technician for the State Bureau of Investigation lab that analyzes DNA evidence. He is also seeking additional space for the SBI Crime Lab in Raleigh and the satellite lab in Asheville to improve efficiency and accommodate DNA analysts in Raleigh and agents working to test evidence from illegal methamphetamine labs at both locations. SBI experts and Cooper have made their case to legislators through testimony, letters, calls and personal visits.

“It’s critical that we act now because we haven’t finished what we set out to accomplish,” said Cooper. “We owe it to the victims and to our communities to give law enforcement full access to DNA technology to solve these cases and get criminals off the streets.”

Cooper has led the fight for more DNA experts to solve rapes, murders and other violent crimes. In 2000, North Carolina had only 6 SBI agents qualified to analyze DNA, but thanks to internal transfers and General Assembly help the SBI has more than tripled the number of DNA experts part way through a five year plan to beef up the lab. Even with the new analysts, North Carolina’s DNA lab has fewer experts than neighboring Virginia, which has one million fewer residents than North Carolina but more than 40 DNA analysts.

More DNA analysts have allowed the SBI to begin clearing untested rape kits held by local law enforcement agencies across the state. Two weeks ago, Cooper joined Greensboro Police to announce that new DNA analysis of unsolved rape cases has identified suspects in two cases and yielded leads in another case. The successes are part of an initiative launched earlier this year. SBI’s Forensic Biology had requested that several agencies, including the Greensboro Police Department, to submit some of their cold cases for DNA analysis. The project is due to expand later this summer. Out of 44 cold cases submitted under the first phase of SBI efforts to clear untested rape kits, lab agents identified DNA in approximately half of the cases. That DNA is being compared with North Carolina’s database of convicted offenders in hopes of solving more cases.

Last year at Cooper’s urging, the General Assembly made North Carolina the 29th state to include all felons in its convicted offender DNA database, giving detectives a greater field to search. Samples collected from felons since December 1 have been catalogued by the SBI and will be analyzed by a private lab using federal funds from the National Institutes of Justice Convicted Offender DNA Backlog Reduction Program before being uploaded to the database. The SBI recently submitted 8,000 convicted offender samples to a private lab for testing.

“DNA is a powerful tool that can pinpoint a suspect,” said Cooper. “With more lab experts and a growing database, we’re making a difference but we can’t stop now.”