- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

RICHMOND — Paul B. Ferrara, who oversaw development of the nation’s first DNA database, said yesterday that he plans to retire as director of the Virginia Department of Forensic Science at the end of the year.

Mr. Ferrara, 63, has led the state crime lab since 1985.

“There’s so much I’m going to miss, but it’s a good point for me to jump off,” Mr. Ferrara said. “I’ve accomplished much of what I set out to do.”

One thing he won’t miss is working 50 to 60 hours a week in a high-pressure job.

“I’m just a little tired of working all those hours. Life’s too short,” said Mr. Ferrara, a recent lung cancer survivor.

Mr. Ferrara said he looks forward to playing more golf but won’t be leaving his chosen field entirely. He will serve as a consultant to the Virginia Institute of Forensic Science, which trains aspiring forensic scientists and crime scene investigators.

He also will continue his second job as a professor of forensic science at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, praised Mr. Ferrara’s leadership.

“Virginia’s crime lab has been a national pioneer in the field of DNA, and that well-earned reputation for scientific integrity in DNA and other evidence analysis is in large measure a testimony to the skill and leadership of Dr. Ferrara and the team of scientists he has assembled and trained at our Department of Forensic Science,” Mr. Kaine said.

Mr. Ferrara earned his doctoral degrees in organic chemistry from Syracuse University and from the State University of New York.

In 2001, he received the Briggs White Award, the highest honor presented annually by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors.

The state forensic lab, which has more than 300 employees, analyzes evidence, interprets results and provides expert testimony on physical evidence recovered from crime scenes.

In 1989, Virginia’s lab became the first in the nation to offer DNA analyses to law-enforcement agencies and the first to create a DNA database of previously convicted sex offenders.

Five years later, Virginia became the first state to discontinue traditional blood evidence analysis in favor of DNA analysis.

In 1994, a “cold hit,” or match, from the DNA database resulted in a first conviction. Through June 30, the database held DNA profiles of nearly 250,000 criminals, resulting in 3,451 hits.

“The DNA databank program, which I must admit being very proud of, has revolutionized forensic science,” Mr. Ferrara said. “But I think I’m proudest of the people, the staff. There’s a legacy there that will survive.”

The crime lab has had its bumpy moments, however. Last year, an independent audit showed the lab made several errors when retesting evidence in the case of a former death-row inmate wrongfully convicted of a 1982 rape and murder. Later, retesting led to the absolute pardon of Earl Washington Jr.

Discovery of the errors prompted then-Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, to order an independent review of low-level DNA cases. The review of 123 cases turned up just one minor error.

The flap over the Washington case was “a tempest in a teapot,” said Mr. Ferrara, who noted that more advanced testing by the lab later linked the crime to an imprisoned serial rapist.

“The nature of our work is such that any individual can review the work an examiner does,” Mr. Ferrara said. “Everything is out there to be reviewed and critiqued by experts, yet day in and day out, our work holds up.”

Mr. Kaine said a national search will be conducted for Mr. Ferrara’s successor.

Mr. Ferrara’s retirement is scheduled for Dec. 31, but Mr. Kaine said Mr. Ferrara has agreed to stay until a replacement is named.

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