New Crime Lab DNA Analysts Ready

By: Zac Schultz Email
By: Zac Schultz Email

Posted Wednesday, June 25, 2008 -- 5:30
By Zac Schultz

Madison: The backlog at the State Crime Lab currently sits at around 1,600 cases. "We believe we'll get rid of the backlog sometime in 2010," says Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.

He has a few reasons why he expects the backlog to go away. First and foremost are the 27 new DNA analysts that have been training for the past year. Nineteen will work in Madison, 8 in the Milwaukee office.

Those analysts now have triple the workspace, with the addition of a newly remodeled lab.

They're also ordering a third robot analyst. Their machine can test 80 DNA samples in two hours. A human can test about 10 in two hours.

Next, Van Hollen says they've worked with law enforcement to limit what gets submitted. "We have worked very closely with them to make sure what has been submitted and what is tested are the most valuable pieces of evidence."

But police are submitting even more cases. "The efficiencies at the lab, the productivity went up by 70%, and we only cut into the backlog by 150 cases."

In the past, complex cases like the recent murders of Joel Marino and Brittany Zimmermann could result in a big slowdown. The new analysts were training when those cases came in, and are ready to help.

"Those are very interesting cases and there's a lot of testing that gets done," says new DNA Analyst Ryan Gajewski. "You get a great sense of accomplishment when you're able to process a case like that and get results."

"I'm looking forward to actually seeing the results that I am able to obtain making a difference," says fellow rookie Amy Buscher. "Getting a result, find the bad guy and putting him in jail, or exonerating someone. It works both ways."

The crime lab is still looking to add another four DNA analysts next year.

With the new lab and the robot analysts the State Crime Lab is considered one of the best in the nation. But there are still some kinds of DNA analysis they can't perform.

Earlier this year the Rock County DA said he needed to send some DNA evidence to the FBI because the state crime lab couldn't handle it.

The evidence was for the Janesville triple homicide of 2006. James Koepp was eventually charged with three counts of intentional homicide for the murders of Danyetta Lentz and her two children.

The District Attorney wanted to test mitochondrial DNA from the crime scene. Lab forensics supervisor Marie Varriale says they don't do that kind of testing because it is so rarely needed and they would need to build a whole new lab. "The requests from law enforcement for that type of analysis is maybe 4 to 6 cases a year. The Feds do provide that as a free service and we haven't felt the need to implement that at this time because of the lack of demand for the service."

Koepp is in prison on other charges and will be back in court at the end of July.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008 --- 1:30 p.m.

According to a news release from the Office of the Attorney General:

MADISON – Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen announced today the opening of the new DNA analysis lab space in the State Crime Lab in Madison.

“When I became Attorney General, I knew that there was nothing I could do more to promote public safety and support local law enforcement than getting rid of the enormous DNA backlog,” said Van Hollen. “Just eighteen months ago the Wisconsin Crime Lab was awash in an ever increasing backlog. Cases were coming in twice as fast as they were being worked.”

“As of the end of last month, the backlog that had been growing out of control actually shrunk by almost 150 cases since I took office,” said Van Hollen. “We are keeping up with incoming cases, and then some by increasing efficiency.”

In May the State Crime Labs in Madison and Milwaukee completed 321 DNA cases, more than any other month in the history of the state crime lab and more than three times what was being done during an average month in 2006. “We’re setting records, and we will set more,” said Van Hollen.

Today 19 new DNA analysts completed their rigorous year-long training and certification program. “I welcome these new analysts to the active fight against crime,” said Van Hollen. “They are dedicated to public service, and through their dedication to science, objectivity and integrity they are serving justice.”

The recruitment and training itself is a remarkable accomplishment. Never before had Wisconsin recruited so many forensic analysts to start at one time. “To our knowledge, no other state or public forensic laboratory in the country has trained this many new analysts at once,” said Van Hollen.

The new analysts will begin working on DNA analysis cases in the new lab space by the end of the week.

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