Police around Florida are finally getting solid leads in rapes and burglaries that have gone unsolved for years, even decades. A nearly $3 million grant is helping the Florida Department of Law Enforcement chip away at a backlog of hundreds of cold cases. DNA comparisons are providing names of suspects, and finally, justice for victims.
Sergeant Steve Harrelson knows the value of DNA technology first-hand. He wasn't getting anywhere on an investigation into a five-year-old rape case, but new technology allowed the Department of Law Enforcement to compare the old evidence with a new database of known felons.
“The suspect that it turned out to be was not even a suspect to begin with. In fact they had no idea he was even involved. They were looking at this other person who had also lived in the area,” says Harrelson.
DNA linked the evidence to a man already in prison serving time for burglary, and he was convicted of the rape. Since FDLE began comparing a backlog of DNA samples against its database of nearly 200,000 felons, it's been able to provide the name of a suspect in one out of every three cold cases.
This kit provides the DNA samples that go into the database. A law enforcement officer uses a swab to take a sample from inside the mouth of a volunteer or an inmate, and then the information goes into a computer.
Even for certain cases like a burglary where the actual suspect went in and during the course of the, you know, cut himself on a broken window. He has left his DNA behind, so it gives us another avenue to try and identify the suspect,” Harrelson says.
FDLE's forensic services director, Sue Livingston, says it's about finding justice.
“The victims who thought they were forgotten now know that we haven't forgotten about them and we're trying to solve their cases, as we always have been,” Sue says.
FDLE hopes the nearly three million dollar federal grant will be enough to clear the remaining backlog of about 11-hundred cold cases by the end of the year.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement continues to add DNA samples to its database on a regular basis. The agency's goal is to have DNA samples from all of the felons by 2005.