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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Richland sheriff's DNA lab wins national honor

This article appeared in South Carolina's The State on November 2, 2006:

Richland sheriff's DNA lab wins national honor

By RICK BRUNDRETT
rbrundrett@thestate.com

By early December of last year, Richland County Sheriff’s detectives suspected they were dealing with a serial rapist.

Three women reported being raped within a three-month period on Hilltop Road, a secluded dirt road in the county.

In each case, a man picked up a woman walking alone on Farrow Road, drove her to Hilltop Road, raped her and then drove off, leaving her to find her way home, investigators said.

What linked Andrew Hingleton to the crimes was his DNA, detectives said. The department’s DNA laboratory matched crime-scene DNA to Hingleton, 41, who was charged in January with the three assaults and a fourth rape.

The lab, which opened in November 2004, was recognized Wednesday with a national certification that only two other local police agencies in the country — in Florida and Ohio — have obtained.

“We’re solving cases that we never could have solved two, three years ago,” Sheriff Leon Lott said. “It’s really making our job more effective and a lot more easier for our officers on the street.”

The certification was awarded by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors and required compliance with more than 300 standards.

The six-member forensics team in the department’s DNA lab works quietly behind the scenes to crack cases that otherwise couldn’t be solved.

They will tell you their work isn’t as glamorous as what’s portrayed on television.
Demi Garvin, the lab’s director, said her lab is one of only a few in the nation that analyzes samples from violent and nonviolent crimes.

“We’re probably doing about 500 (cases) per year — 80 percent are burglaries,” said Gray Amick, the lab’s DNA technical leader.

Lab analyst John Barron said suspects from as far away as Texas and Florida have been charged with crimes in Richland County based on DNA samples analyzed by the lab.

The county’s DNA profile database is hooked to a statewide database maintained by the State Law Enforcement Division, which regularly sends its information to the FBI’s national database.
Lott said his lab can obtain DNA profiles “within 24 hours” compared to SLED’s lab, which can take months to process samples because of larger caseloads.

So far, the Richland County lab has a “hit” or match rate of about 45 percent, Lott said.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 771-8484.

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