AUSTIN (KXAN) — In violent crimes like rape and murder, you want to know the DNA in those cases are reliable and accurate to keep criminals off the street.
KXAN News has learned the DNA testing in many Austin crimes is questionable and can’t be trusted. The Austin Police Department’s DNA lab was shuttered in June of last year after the Texas Forensic Science Commission had concerns about the lack of a properly trained staff and use of outdated methods.
In November, a memo from the department brought to light the fact a freezer that help samples had been broken for six days before anyone noticed.
In December, a newly hired chief forensics officer was removed from his position after questions arose of his academic transcripts.
Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore stopped by the KXAN studios to address the fallout of the APD’s now defunct DNA lab which handled thousands of criminal cases before it was shut down over the summer. Moore said tests are being re-done as needed, and it’s not cheap.
“The ticker is still running because you’re doing this case by case,” she said. “You have pending cases and you have closed cases so we got two processes going on at the same time. It’s already cost several hundred thousand dollars in money transferred to the DA’s office for additional testing. We’re not done.”
Moore said for closed cases, the chances are unlikely that an innocent person was convicted based on faulty DNA, but her office is going through a thorough process while investigating the DNA lab.
The DA’s office says they’ve spent approximately $25,000 on DNA testing last year. So far this year, the county has spent more than $100,000 and the department expected to spend more than $250,000 by year’s end.
The office currently has 112 cases that are waiting on DNA testing. The breakdown of the cases:
- 24 homicides
- 34 sexual assaults with adult victims
- 11 sex offenses with child victims
- 43 variety of other offenses
APD has said that the backlog should be completed by April of 2018. When the lab does re-open, it is expected to be overseen by the state.