09/24/2004

Federal Grant Given to Clear Backlog of Crime Lab Cases in La.

The Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The state received a $1.8 million federal grant Thursday to help clear a backlog of about 1,000 DNA comparisons in murder and sexual assault cases at the state's five crime laboratories.

Federal authorities said the state will get $759,160 to clear the DNA backlog and $603,089 for DNA laboratory equipment. Another $478,108 is earmarked for the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement for training purposes.

The grant was awarded under a five-year, $1 billion program designed to help police laboratories catch up on DNA comparisons nationwide. Not only has DNA become vital in scores of murder and rape cases, but also has been used to clear those who were wrongfully convicted.

Nationwide authorities have estimated as many as 350,000 "rape kits" await testing.

About 1,000 cases that need DNA testing are backlogged in Louisiana, including 420 from the State Police crime lab at Baton Rouge, authorities said. The other labs are in Jefferson Parish, New Iberia, Shreveport and Lake Charles.

U.S. Deputy Associate Attorney General Tracy Henke, who came to Baton Rouge to make the announcement, said DNA "promises to be the most remarkable crime-fighting tool of the 21st century."

"Already, DNA evidence has identified hundreds of murderers and rapists nationwide," Henke said. "The Justice Department is committed to helping Louisiana enhance its forensic programs to convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent."

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