- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Virginia investigators say a groundbreaking decision made 13 years ago to help solve crimes has helped them crack their 1,000th case: the rape of a young Richmond woman.
No arrest has been made, but police said yesterday that a database of genetic evidence, or DNA, created in 1989 has linked the suspect to the April 2001 crime.
In 1989 Virginia became the first state to collect DNA evidence from sex offenders and compare it to evidence found at crime scenes. The project expanded to include every convicted felon at least 14 years old. Today the database has more than 187,000 DNA samples, which officials say has helped solve 109 homicides, 241 rapes, 12 rape-homicides, nine malicious woundings, 14 carjackings, 57 robberies, 465 burglaries and 86 other crimes. They also say that each month the database links 24 suspects to unsolved crimes.
"Our scientific edge has not only produced leads in cases that have confounded police for years, it also has taken lethal criminals off the street," Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, said last week at the Virginia Forensic Science Academy, which trains officers to spot, collect and preserve such DNA evidence as blood, hair and semen.
DNA has replaced fingerprints as the key evidence that helps tie criminals to crime scenes, and it is more accurate, eliminating one of every four suspects.
But the process is also expensive. Virginia spends about $6 million annually for testing, analyzing and processing. Entering new evidence into the system, which is run by a contract company, costs about $50. But processing it costs more than $5,000, says Paul B. Ferrara, director of the Forensic Science Division.
There now are 29 other states that collect DNA evidence from convicted felons.
However, critics are upset with the commonwealth's plan to expand the database next year to include everybody charged with a violent crime, despite Mr. Warner's vow that samples will be destroyed after an acquittal or dismissal.
"Our greatest concern is the path that DNA is on," said Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. "But how much privacy are we willing to give up in order to fight crime?"
He also said that forcing somebody only accused of a crime to take DNA tests is tantamount to police searching homes without warrants.


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