Thursday, 4:30 PM
State Police investigating DNA mishaps in unsolved sexual assault cases
By John R. Ellement and Jonathan Saltzman, Globe Staff, and Andrew Ryan, Globe Correspondent
An employee at the troubled State Police crime laboratory has been suspended for failing to communicate DNA matches in a number of old unsolved rape cases to Massachusetts prosecutors, who now cannot bring charges against the suspects because the statute of limitations expired, the head of the State Police said today.
The unidentified employee also erroneously told police and prosecutors in an unspecified number of cases that tests had matched DNA recovered at crime scenes to suspects when in fact he was wrong, said State Police Superintendent Colonel Mark F. Delaney.
As a result of an internal investigation launched by Delaney, the employee was placed on administrative leave, and the State Police have brought in the FBI to conduct an independent audit of DNA testing at the crime lab, which has long been criticized for moving too slowly to analyze genetic material.
"As a result, in many of the cases, a suspect was identified prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations, but neither the police investigators nor the District Attorney's Office of jurisdiction were notified in a timely manner," state police said in a statement issued late this afternoon.
It was not immediately clear how many cases are affected or if the mistakes allowed violent sexual offenders to go free.
The bulk of the affected cases are believed to be at least 15 years old, the statute of limitations for most serious sex crimes.
Lieutenant Detective William Powers, a State Police Spokesman, said the problem is administrative and does not call into question the quality of forensic science in the lab. He added that the department does not believe current investigations will be adversely affected by the DNA problems.
The audit of laboratory will assure that current investigations are being properly handled and the information about crucial forensic evidence is being provided to prosecutors in a timely fashion, police said. The DNA laboratory is one of the forensic services performed state police for prosecutors across the state.
Prosecutors have complained in recent years that the lab is under funded and understaffed and that investigations are stymied, or significantly slowed down, by the inability of the department to quickly process the forensic evidence.
State Police launched an investigation into the problems at the lab in mid-November. District attorney's offices with cases that may be affected were notified of the problems.