[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----CALIF., ALA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Nov 9 17:59:18 CST 2008
As DNA test backlogs soar, U.S. cuts funding---- Law enforcement agencies
that had not used full allocations from previous years found their grants
reduced despite an estimated 400,000 untested cases.
Last summer, the Los Angeles Police Department was dealt a rude shock.
Expecting nearly $1 million in federal grant money to help cover the cost
of analyzing DNA evidence in rape cases and other violent crimes, the
department was awarded only half that much.
U.S. Department of Justice officials, who distribute the money to police
agencies nationwide, told LAPD staff that the fault was their own. The
LAPD had been too slow to spend about half the DNA grant money awarded in
prior years, so its 2008 allotment was reduced. Meanwhile, an audit found
that more than 7,000 rape kits are waiting to be analyzed, the largest
known backlog in the country.
As dire as LAPD's problem is, it is hardly unique.
The Justice Department cut backlog funding this year to crime labs in 17
states, including California, because they had not spent federal grants
dating as far back as 2004. About 1/4 of the 105 law enforcement agencies
that receive these grants had their funding docked, Justice Department
The cuts coincide with a soaring national DNA backlog. Although the
federal government hasn't estimated the backlog in recent years, Human
Rights Watch, which advocates for rape victims among others, has put it at
about 400,000 cases.
Smaller jurisdictions are not immune. In Erie County, N.Y., the
year-to-year backlog increased from 620 to 920 in 2007. In Ventura County,
the backlog increased from 53 cases to 156 during the same period.
"Potentially hundreds if not thousands of rapists nationally could be
apprehended if the frozen evidence of their crime was analyzed," said Los
Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, who has complained about the backlog
for years. "It is the ultimate no-brainer."
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) wrote a letter last week to Atty. Gen.
Michael Mukasey expressing her "strong concerns" about how the money is
being spent. Maloney, who sponsored legislation that secured the funding,
asked Mukasey for a detailed accounting.
"It would be outrageous if the backlogs are the result of the Department
of Justice's negligent administration," Maloney said in a statement to The
Times and ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative reporting newsroom.
It has been nearly a decade since Congress ordered the Justice Department
to help crime labs reduce their backlogs. Since 2004, Congress has given
the department $474 million for this purpose through the Debbie Smith Act,
written by Maloney and named after a woman who advocates for eliminating
backlogs. Smith was raped in 1989, but her attacker's DNA went untested
for 6 years.
With this funding, the Bush administration said, the backlog would be
eliminated in 5 years, a period that soon will expire.
But at the same time, an unprecedented number of DNA samples entered the
nation's crime labs. New laws mandated that DNA be taken from more people,
often including those arrested but not charged with a crime. Meanwhile,
new technologies made it possible to analyze small or degraded samples.
It remains unclear why the LAPD and many other labs have not used all
their grant money. Several labs contacted by ProPublica had no explanation
for why the money hadn't been spent.
LAPD Assistant Chief Sharon Papa acknowledged that, on paper, the
department had nearly $2 million in unspent federal DNA funds as of
August. She and her staff said those figures did not account for about
$500,000 of DNA work sent to private labs but not yet reflected on balance
The spending delay was largely the result of confusion about the time
frames the Justice Department sets for spending the money, Papa and others
said. She also said the cash flow problem hasn't slowed the pace of the
department's DNA testing.
Renee Artman, director of the Ventura County Sheriff's lab, which used
nearly all its 2006 federal funding, said many labs would like to use the
money to hire more DNA analysts. But the grants cover only a fixed period
(usually 12 months), which means labs can guarantee jobs for only that
"Not too many people are willing to take a risk and accept this position,"
The Justice Department would not allow anyone to speak on the record about
DNA backlogs. Speaking anonymously, a department official said the agency
is available to answer questions from labs and holds an annual conference
for its grantees. "We've done an enormous amount of work to deal with rape
kit problems," the official said.
The department is aware of the LAPD's problem and is "going to do what we
can to assist them directly," the official said.
L.A. isn't the only city where the money sits unused for years.
In progress reports filed in early 2008, 26 labs said they had not yet
fully tapped into 2006 DNA money. A lab in Allegheny County, Pa., hadn't
used all of its 2004 grant.
At the Illinois State Police crime lab, the DNA backlog was eliminated in
2005, but it reemerged with 938 cases in September 2008. Yet the lab has
not fully spent its grants from 2006 or 2007.
The lab has not been penalized for the unspent funds, said Master Sgt.
Brian Ley, an agency spokesman. It received $2.4 million in 2007.
"This is an issue we've dealt with for years," Ley said. "We recognize
that there will always be a backlog of some sort."
Sarah Tofte, who has tracked the backlog program for Human Rights Watch,
said the breadth of the problem suggests the Justice Department hasn't
adequately supervised the program or pressed labs to use the money.
"There's no accountability," she said. "None."
The Justice Department requires labs to submit 2-page quarterly progress
reports. But many hand in incomplete reports with such entries as "nothing
to report -- no funds spent," as the South Dakota attorney general's
office recorded in January.
In a 2004 audit, the Justice Department's inspector general found that
oversight of DNA funding was weak. In response, the department largely
outsourced its oversight responsibilities to a nonprofit contractor in
Florida, the National Forensic Science Technology Center. Now, each lab is
visited every second year by an audit team.
The Justice Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity said
the agency lacks the staff to watch the program on its own. In 2007, the
department paid the Florida company $6 million for services that included
overseeing the DNA program.
Lisa Forman Neall, a former chief of the Investigative and Forensic
Sciences Division at the Justice Department, said oversight
responsibilities shouldn't be outsourced.
"That is the job of the federal agency," said Forman Neall, who left the
division before it began administering the Debbie Smith program.
Now the inspector general's office is again auditing the backlog reduction
program, a spokeswoman confirmed.
Justice Department officials declined to comment.
It is difficult to determine exactly how the Justice Department has spent
the $474 million Congress has provided for the DNA program since 2004.
About $55 million is unaccounted for, according to an analysis of
government data. Department officials said some of that money was probably
used for administrative costs.
They also said some DNA grant money went for research and development in
areas unrelated to the backlog, including fingerprint analysis.
Maloney said she'll investigate whether it's possible to ensure that DNA
testing funds are spent on reducing the backlogs.
But even labs that spent their grant money have seen backlogs skyrocket.
At the Missouri State Highway Patrol, for instance, the backlog rose over
the course of a year from 392 cases to 1,173 by the end of 2007. Its
funding was not enough to keep up with the boom in testing, officials
In Los Angeles, news of the backlog and revoked funding has caused
politicians to confront the problem. The City Council found money late
last month to pay private labs for more testing and to hire 16 DNA
analysts and support staff, a boost of about 33%.
But millions of dollars in additional city funds, federal grants and
private donations will be needed to address the problem, and even then
city officials say the backlog won't be eliminated until 2013.
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Will Death Penalty Be Sought In Slain Officer Trial?
Defense attorneys asked if the death penalty will be sought for the man
accused of killing a Huntsville Police Officer.
Kenneth Shipp, Jr. Will stand trial for the murder of Officer Eric
Prosecutors have been asked whether they intend to seek the death penalty
He is accused of shooting Officer Freeman after police responded to an
accident on Bailey Cove Road last December.
No date for the trial has been set.
source: WAAY News)
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