The Justice Files: New DNA laboratory to aid police and families of crime

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MURRAY, Utah (ABC4 News) – It may be the first non-profit DNA laboratory in the nation, and it could soon help law enforcement in solving cold cases.

The Utah Cold Case Coalition is behind the DNA laboratory which will soon be open for business.

“There is an enormous amount of evidence of cold cases throughout the country that has not been tested due to budgetary problems,” said Karra Porter, a co-founder of the Utah Cold Case coalition.

And the backlog of cases waiting for processing will get worse. Porter said the Department of Justice issued over $1 billion in grants over the past five years hasn’t helped with the backlog.

“The amount of DNA over the years 2011 to 2017, actually increased by 85%,” Porter said.

At Utah’s state crime lab, it can often take months, possibly years to get results of DNA tests.  As a result, unsolved crimes and cold cases are on hold. Currently, law enforcement can pay privately owned DNA laboratories, but it’s costly.

“The price of DNA testing has gone up considerably and part of that is due to demand,” Porter said.

Francine Bardole, a forensic specialist for the West Jordan Police Department said law enforcement is seeking out the help of private DNA labs.

“A lot of law enforcements are moving towards private labs so that they can get things done expediently,” Bardole said.

But she said because of those costs, law enforcement can only get a handful of cases processed with private labs.

“The prices have become overwhelming and huge,” she said. 

This new non-profit lab promises to change all that.

“When this is done we will be able to be fully certified and accredited and be able to offer DNA services to law enforcement and families at something they can afford to do,” she said.

Porter said if families of crime have a situation where the police won’t test something that may have DNA, the coalition wants to know about it.  Families have already contacted the coalition about frustration with current investigations.

“We have a case right now where we know there is DNA available,” Porter said. “It hasn’t been tested and it’s in a small rural area and the amount that could be tested is probably a budget buster for them (law enforcement). “We’ll reach out (to police) on that one.”

But funding is an issue for the coalition.  The group has enough money to start the laboratory but Porter said ongoing costs will be challenging.

“Anyone out there who cares about cases can help by purchasing some of the DNA equipment,” Porter said. “We have started a GoFundMe account … that is solely for the purpose of assisting and purchasing equipment for DNA testing as needed by law enforcement.”

She said the laboratory will be certified by the state. It allows for their results to be accepted by the court.

In Utah alone, Bardole said there are more than 400 cold cases that are being hampered by costs and this laboratory could help those families.

“These families need closure and this will help bring that about,” Bardole said.

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