innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Crisis at Tulsa's Crime Lab

This article appeared on the website of KOTV in Oklahoma on November 1, 2006:

A Crisis At Tulsa's Crime Lab

The Tulsa Police crime lab is in a position it's never been in before, with a 6-month backlog for DNA results. That means even violent cases, like rape and murder, are in limbo while victims wait for answers.

News on 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright says Tulsa's only DNA analyst predicted to us 18 months ago that this crisis was coming, that's because, even in a city with more crime than Oklahoma City, they have five people working on DNA and Tulsa has one.

Walter and Grace Brown [pictured] were murdered in their Tulsa home in April. Police had no suspects until a series of violent attacks targeted older people.

The clerk of J&J was beaten and robbed, the owner of Grandpa's furniture, beaten and robbed. Then, 68 year old Alonzo Tibbs was beaten and killed in his home on North Hartford.

Tulsa Police arrested Billy Marshall, a convicted criminal now charged with murder and robbery. It's only logical, detectives would wonder whether Marshall was connected to the Brown's murders, so they sent DNA to the lab in early summer and waited, and are still waiting, even though it's now November.

Tulsa Police Sgt. Mike Huff: "it doesn't give much hope to a family that's hanging by every piece of information."

There are close to 20 murder cases on hold, awaiting DNA results as well as rape cases and other violent crimes. That pushes property crimes like burglaries to the bottom of the pile. "Technology is wonderful, but, you need to have people to feed the technology."

Dr. Valerie Fuller is Tulsa's only DNA analyst and even though she is doing four times as many DNA cases as the national average, the caseload is just too great.

She told the News on 6, 18 months ago, the city must hire more people or the lab would be in a crisis. Now, it's here.

Part of the backlog is due to the serial rapist investigation. The lab can do 36 DNA samples a month. 177 men were eliminated as serial rape suspects, which put the lab nearly five months behind. The lab does work for Tulsa Police, the Tulsa County DA, the public defender's office and has had to stop assisting other agencies recently, like Broken Arrow and Sand Springs.
Tulsa does now have two DNA analysts in training; one will be ready to begin hands-on testing in January, the other, by summer. But Tulsa will still be behind other comparable cities in the number of active DNA analysts.

Could they send these DNA tests to labs elsewhere? Officials say it costs Tulsa less than $100 per sample to test here. It would cost a $1,000 a sample to send out, plus, the expense of flying that person to Tulsa to testify.

The lab says DNA in the Brown murders should be back in a few weeks.

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