- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 11 (UPI) — Attorney General John Ashcroft Tuesday urged congressional approval of new DNA funding to catch criminals.

The administration's "DNA initiative" calls for spending $1 billion over the next five years.

In prepared remarks to reporters at the Justice Department, Ashcroft said he met with President George W. Bush earlier in the day "to discuss the president's new DNA Initiative, entitled: 'Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology.' The President is committed to realizing the full potential of DNA technology to solve crime and protect the innocent."

The administration has proposed $232.6 million in federal funding in fiscal year 2004 for the initiative, and calls for a total of $1 billion over five years.

"Under the president's initiative," the attorney general said, "we will improve the use of DNA technology in the criminal justice system — especially in federal, state and local forensic laboratories — by providing funds, training and assistance."

Ashcroft said the initiative will allow law enforcement to:

— Analyze rape kits and other "cold case" evidence that has gone unexamined for years,

— Conduct DNA analysis of more offender samples,

— Solve more crimes through efficient and effective use of DNA-improved technology,

— Identify missing persons through enhanced DNA testing methods, and

— Help exonerate individuals wrongly accused or convicted of crimes.

Ashcroft said the initiative will use DNA technology more effectively to solve more crimes and convict the guilty. "DNA evidence can breathe new life into long-dormant investigations."

DNA evidence already has identified hundreds of murderers and rapists nationwide, he said. "I know there are some very courageous survivors here with us today, who were finally able to see justice done when DNA testing identified their perpetrators."

He said one such survivor is Floridian Kellie Greene, who was "viciously attacked and raped in her apartment" in 1994. At the time, Florida did not analyze DNA in cases in which there was no identified suspect.

After more than three years, the DNA in Greene's case was analyzed and a match was made with the profile of David William Shaw, who had a prior felony record.

"By the time Kellie's rape kit was finally tested, Shaw was already serving a 250-year sentence for beating and raping another woman," Ashcroft said. "Shaw's attack on the other woman ad occurred just weeks before his assault on Kellie."

The attorney general said the National Institute of Justice estimates that the current DNA analysis backlog of rape and homicide cases alone is approximately 350,000.

NIJ also estimates that there are between 200,000 and 300,000 collected, untested convicted offender DNA samples.

"In addition," Ashcroft said, "we estimate there are between 500,000 and 1 million convicted offender samples which have not yet been collected as required by law."

The attorney general said the president has told the department to eliminate the backlogs completely within 5 years, "and we will do so."

The national Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, has 1.4 million DNA profiles of convicted offenders, almost half of which resulted from the federal government's prior efforts to help states reduce the backlog.

Between 2001 and 2002, the number of crime scene samples matched to convicted offender samples jumped from 2200 to almost 5000. "This translates into thousands of crimes solved, rapists and murderers caught, and fewer victims," Ashcroft said.

He added that more crimes will be solved by expanding crime lab capacity to test DNA. "Crime laboratories face rapidly increasing workloads and increased DNA analysis demands. We must increase the labs' capacity to handle current demands and simultaneously reduce the backlog."

In the United States, there are more than 130 public crime labs capable of conducting DNA testing, but fewer than 10 percent have the automated facilities needed to conduct efficient testing, the attorney general said. "Employing basic technology used every day in supermarkets nationwide such as bar-coding, robots and advanced computer support will allow law enforcement to solve more crimes with advanced technology," he added.

"We look forward to working with the chairmen of both the House and the Senate Judiciary committees to develop legislation that provides appropriate post-conviction DNA testing to federal inmates," Ashcroft said.

The administration's initiative also will increase the use of DNA evidence to identify missing persons, the attorney general said, citing the immense task of identifying the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The attorney general was joined by John Walsh, host of the television show "America's Most Wanted," in making the announcement.

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