SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WEEK) — State senators are pressing the Illinois State Police for answers on why there are thousands of criminal cases held up by a backlog of untested DNA evidence at the state’s crime labs.
The Senate Public Health and Criminal Law committees held a joint hearing in Chicago Monday on the state’s nearly 700 murder cases still awaiting evidence testing.
“The backlog in murder DNA processing at the state crime lab is unacceptable,” state Sen. Patricia Van Pelt (D-Chicago) said. “Technology exists to test DNA in under two hours, yet DNA from nearly 700 murder cases from the past few years is still backlogged. Law enforcement needs to be taking advantage of this technology. There are 700 families waiting for answers. They deserve closure.”
Thousands of other cases are also awaiting testing in the state backlog. The committee heard testimony from the families of murder victims, the Illinois State Police, representatives from ANDE, a Colorado DNA testing firm, and the Murder Accountability Project, which tracks unsolved homicide cases.
“During my time as a prosecutor assigned to the Violent Crimes Unit for the Madison County State’s Attorney’s office, I saw firsthand the consequences of this state’s mismanagement of DNA evidence,” said state Sen. Rachelle Crowe (D-Glen Carbon). “Violent crime cases are extremely time sensitive and most of the time rely solely on DNA evidence. To ensure justice for these victims and their families, we must make the timeliness of these test results a priority. I support the plan to invest in more technicians to combat the thousands of unfinished DNA tests dating back several years.”
State police attribute the delays to staffing shortages and a surplus of sexual assault testing kits not previously turned over to state crime labs after a 2010 law mandated DNA testing for sexual assault kits and ordered local police departments to send all rape kits in storage to a crime lab.
State Sen. Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorn Heights) is currently sponsoring legislation requiring the Illinois State police to create a statewide sexual assault electronic data system, based on recommendations from the Sexual Assault Evidence Tracking and Reporting Commission.
“No one who has been sexually assaulted should be left in the dark while the evidence is being processed. They deserve better respect than that. This legislation is an important first step in providing transparency for victims, ensuring survivors are treated with the seriousness they deserve, and bringing more offenders to justice,” he said.
On Sunday, Illinois State Police Acting Director Brendan Kelly announced a new program to allow sexual assault survivors and victims of violent crimes to track online the progress of their test kits through the DNA testing system.
“Delays in DNA testing are greater and more complex than simply speeding up the test itself, but by completely laying bare the process from start to finish, I know all stakeholders involved will see many steps that can be taken, both inside and outside the lab, which will reduce turn-around time,” said Kelly.