Archive for the ‘DNA’ Category

Making News and Making Laws: Team SOAR Member Makes History

June 11, 2009

Thanks to Team SOAR’s Debbie for this powerful guest post!

Before I tell you the rest of the story, I would like to give a little background so you understand what a miraculous journey this has been.

About 4 years ago, a group was formed for Cold Case victims whose cases had been reopened. The Victim Advocate Coordinator, Pat Keaton of the Dallas Police Department in the Crimes Against Persons Unit could see these women (me included) were facing new and old emotions relating to their case.

Our support system we had 20 plus years ago couldn’t understand why we wanted our cases solved. It felt, as no one understood what we were going through until we met and found comfort in each other. We would talk about our lives and how people reacted to us but most importantly, we wanted to learn how to be strong.

As the years passed, we did just that, we became empowered and our involvement with the public grew, we were breaking new ground. In 2005, a reporter told us our interviews with the media showed a face for the first time in Texas. We felt it was important to make the public aware and educate them about sexual assault. In 2005, I interviewed with CNN and my story went national. Then in 2006, 2 more ladies went national with their stories. One of our ladies has been on Nancy Grace more than once and is a resource for the show when sexual assault issues come up. Six of us have appeared on local T.V. and three of us more than once. We made a Documentary with UNT students to raise awareness on college campuses in the spring of 2007. Then I got a surprise when I told my story to the Voices and Faces Project and this organization took my story and many others from across the globe, international. It helped opened a dialogue for women to discuss problems in their Country at the conference in Taipei, Taiwan. The Voices and Faces project was awarded the 2008 Making a Difference for Women award from the United Nations and they thanked me for participating. Wow, educating women across the globe, a dream come true.

We watch the news closely and as a group we were dishearten about the fact our D.A. was getting convictions overturned for those falsely accused. No one should be imprisoned for something they didn’t do but why couldn’t DNA evidence be put on our offender’s criminal history for Law Enforcement to use. Our next step was to contact the D.A. and he met with us so we could ask him our questions. He promised us he would check into the Law and the Constitution for what we wanted to do and get back with us. We had a second meeting with him and his staff in the conference room of the Chief of Police and now things were beginning to move forward. Our Facilitator Pat was diligent about getting our group heard in Austin. We wrote letters to committee members and learned we had an Author of our Bill. It was incredible since we had just started this around the first of the year and now we were going to Austin to speak to the committee.

On April 1st, the room was respectfully quiet and somber as four of us told our stories. It was the first time I had heard two of our ladies tell their stories in detail and their first time telling it in public. I was so moved by the courage they showed it brought tears to my eyes including those of the committee. At the conclusion, they voted unanimously to send it on to the House of Representatives. The House voted 145 yeas, 0 nays and 1 absent! Next, it had to pass the Senate so we made another trip to Austin on April 19th and spoke with the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. This time 5 of us told our stories and the recall of what happened to one of the first time speakers was bringing tears and needed consoling, but what a great job these courageous women did! We were assured this Bill would not be debated and would soon be voted on and the committee did not see a problem for passing it in the Senate. The committee voted unanimously to pass it through to the Senate. We went out into the hall of the Capitol crying tears of joy and hugging each other. Senator Corona’s Assistant Preston said, “Ladies, you are making history here today.”

On May 29, the vote in the Senate was 141 yeas, 1 nay, and 1 not voting. Now we are waiting to hear when the Governor will sign it into law and we hope to be there for that signing.

You can see the history of our Bill on the internet just go to Texas Legislature Online and click on Bill lookup, put in HB 2932 and put in history for the information type.

Thank all of you for your thoughts, prayers, well wishes and shouts of joy. I love you all!

- Debbie

For more information about this bill, go to: http://www.legis.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=81R&Bill=HB2932

DNA Evidence: A Tangled Structure

May 6, 2009

DNA evidence has been widely touted for its power as an invaluable tool in the identification of criminals who commit violent crimes and the exoneration of individuals who have been wrongly accused. However, there are new laws requiring DNA samples to be collected from individuals who are arrested for, not always convicted of, misdemeanors or non-violent crimes. This flood of DNA samples is taxing the system and severely hindering this extremely valuable crime solving and stopping resource.

SOAR founder, Kellie Greene’s own experience and frustration with the DNA backlogs after her rape in 1994, prompted her to pry deeper into the reasons for the delays in processing of such an integral piece of crime scene evidence. What she found was a flawed system and an escalating issue of excess.

Ben Protess of ProPublica.org examines this issue in The DNA Debacle: How the Federal Government Botched the DNA Backlog Crisis

After her attack, Greene joined other rape victims in a crusade to expose the backlog of untested DNA evidence sitting in freezers and on shelves in police departments and crime labs nationwide. She spoke out about her ordeal in hopes of sparing other women similar pain.

In 2003, her efforts appeared to pay off. Greene stood with Attorney General John Ashcroft at the White House when he announced that the U.S. Justice Department planned to spend a billion dollars to eliminate the backlog. The aim of the mission: to help labs swiftly identify murderers, rapists and other dangerous criminals so they couldn’t strike again.

But at the same time, the Justice Department, along with Congress and state legislatures, adopted a conflicting agenda: to collect more DNA samples from wider swaths of the population.

The result: Today, 15 years after Greene began her campaign, the backlog continues to soar. At least 350,000 samples from murder and rape cases — many of them involving sexually abused children — remain untested, according to the federal government’s best estimates. In 2005, labs across the country saw their DNA backlogs nearly double.

Part of the uptick comes from new technologies that allow tiny bits of DNA found at crime scenes to be scooped up and tested. But much of the surge can be traced to new federal and state laws requiring law enforcement to collect DNA samples from people convicted of — or simply arrested for — nonviolent crimes, including shoplifting. Crime lab directors warn that analyzing these samples allows them less time to test DNA from crime scenes and serious criminals, leaving offenders free to prey on new victims.

The expansion of DNA collection laws has been promoted by a lobbying firm with close ties to both the Justice Department and to companies that profit directly from increased DNA testing, a ProPublica investigation has found.

Read more about Kellie’s DNA story at ProPublica: Delayed Justice: Kellie Greene’s Story

Also, Team SOAR member Debbie Shaw’s story of justice not served despite DNA evidence: Justice Denied: Debbie Shaw’s Story

And for more information about the DNA backlog issue: Complex strands of DNA backlog


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