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Hampden DA touts crime lab's DNA work

SPRINGFIELD -- Due to recent DNA matches through the State Police crime lab, six people have been indicted in Springfield-area crimes, Hampden District Attorney William Bennett said yesterday.

Bennett's announcement was made at a sensitive time for the crime lab. One of its administrators was suspended earlier this month for failing to turn over DNA matches to about a dozen unsolved cases until after the statute of limitations had expired.

Two of those cases, both rapes from the 1990, were from Hampden County.

But Bennett and the 11 Hampden County police chiefs who surrounded him during a press conference praised the crime lab, saying its DNA testing is invaluable in helping them crack cases while sometimes leading to the acquittal of wrongly accused suspects.

"Without something like this to breathe new life into cold cases, you just run out of tools," said Agawam Police Chief Robert Campbell. "It gives you more incentive to keep working on old cases."

State Police Major Francis Moore called the crime lab's notification delay "an administrative snafu."

"The science itself is solid," he said. "The problem wasn't in our lab. It was with an individual, and we're addressing the situation."

The FBI is auditing the state's DNA database, known as the Combined DNA Indexing System, to see if more than the suspected dozen breaches occurred.

The system collects DNA samples from convicted felons. The scientific data are converted to digital computer data that can be run against similar data from unsolved cases.

The indictments handed up Friday charged six people with committing rapes, robberies, and breaking and entering in Springfield, Chicopee, and Palmer. Four of the suspects are serving prison terms for other convictions. The oldest case is a rape from 1994; the most recent are from last year.

A fifth defendant, who is charged with a statutory rape from 2005, is on probation stemming from a statutory rape conviction.

A warrant has been issued for the final defendant, who is charged with stealing stereos from four vehicles parked at a Springfield car dealership.

Bennett and the police chiefs used yesterday's announcement to push lawmakers to expand the DNA database to include genetic samples from people convicted of misdemeanors, as well as felonies. They also want DNA information collected from autopsies to go into the system to help determine if an alleged criminal is still at large.

Holyoke Police Chief Anthony Scott also said Massachusetts should follow the lead of some other states and require anyone who is arrested to submit a DNA sample for the indexing system.

"We already fingerprint you when we arrest you," Scott said. "This is nothing more than a form of genetic fingerprinting."

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