Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Missing a wedding, a would-be murderer missing

While putting together the CLP News last night, I came across the Associated Press story of a man who missed his daughter's wedding while he was in custody in Oregon.

Not perhaps remarkable in and of itself. He was a suspect in an attempted murder. The victim emerged from a coma after a brutal beating, and said he thought the man was the one who attacked him. So the police were perhaps not unreasonable in arresting their suspect, although he said he was 70 miles away and had witness to prove it.

The real problem is, it took more than six months to complete the DNA test and fingerprint check that exonerated him. The crime took place January 13, and authorities told him they were dropping the case against him on June 22. The wedding was on June 20th.

And of course, over the last six months, the victim's vicious attacker has been on the loose.

Before you blame the crime lab, consider the fact that a mere 3 years ago, when backlogs were already escalating across the country, the Oregon state legislature slashed the staff of the state crime lab from 135 to 50 people. The staff is now up to 109.

The cuts took place two years after the legislature required DNA samples from all convicted felons to be submitted for a state database, and now "thousands of samples are awaiting entry into the system. About 1,000 more arrive each month...." If Oregon is following national trends, the backlog has probably increased dramatically since 2003.

Looking at these numbers, it's surprising the lab got to the test in six months. Which is of no comfort to the former suspect, his family, the victim, the detectives who've been working on the case so far. And while it's good that the tests could clear the man before he went to trial, let's hope there's not another victim of the real attacker out there, someone who might have been spared by faster results.

The next time you see a television show in which DNA results are back in 30 seconds, think about this story. And imagine what would change in your life, if you were held in custody for six months waiting for a test result.


Sandra Ruttan said...

Jan, what a sad story. Six months of his life he'll never get back, and the people to blame are the government, not the crime labs.

How unfortunate.

Jan said...

You're right, Sandy.

I'm hoping that members of the public will let their legislators know that this sort of neglect of the labs is not acceptable.