Murder and Rape DNA Test Backlog Hits 350,000

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The United States is fast reaching a crisis point as federal, state and local law enforcement falls further and further behind in processing a backlog of now 350,000 DNA samples for cases involving murder or rape, according to an investigation by ProPublica. From Springfield, IL, to Los Angeles, CA, victims groups are furious over the failure of government officials to adequately resolve the problem of rape kits and other DNA collections that are piling up instead of being used to put away violent offenders.

The matter has now touched Washington, DC, where a top Illinois forensic scientist was hired to help the U.S. government deal with its own DNA backlog—only to find out that the man in question, Michael Sheppo, didn’t do such a bang up job after all while heading up the Illinois State Police crime lab. Instead of overseeing what was reportedly the elimination of a 1,000-case backlog of samples, Sheppo managed an operation that doctored lab reports to show a phony reduction in DNA processing. It also was found by ProPublica that the lab retaliated against two whistleblowers who criticized a no-bid contract with a Florida nonprofit that Sheppo was involved with.
The news out of Illinois follows on the controversial situation in Los Angeles, where the city controller complained back in October that city officials had failed to process a backlog of 7,000 rape kits—even though the U.S. Justice Department had given LA nearly $4 million to do just that. More than 200 of the kits had sat around for so long that they no longer could be used for the crimes they were related to because the statute of limitations had run out.
-Noel Brinkerhoff


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