News 04.28.10

California Crime Lab Waited Two Years for DNA Testing

Yesterday, prosecutors in San Francisco filed murder charges in the 2007 rape and murder of a transgender prostitute. The case garnered widespread attention three years ago when DNA evidence remained at the lab untested for two years.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that during those two years, the perpetrator allegedly attacked up to four other victims.

The case highlighted problems with the department’s crime lab before the recent drug- skimming allegations there prompted multiple audits. The crime lab had a policy of not giving priority to testing of evidence when there was not a known suspect, a practice that police officials said has changed.

Assistant Police Chief Jeff Godown said Tuesday that he was “extremely concerned” about the delay. “We want to determine whether or not the ball was dropped,” he said. “We need to know what took so long in getting it analyzed.”

Donzell Francis pleaded guilty yesterday to the 2007 murder charge.  He is already serving a 17-year sentence for another sexual assault.  Prosecutors filed special circumstances of murder during a sexual assault which makes Francis eligible for life in prison without parole or the death penalty if convicted.   They said he preyed on transgender prostitutes by picking them up and driving to remote areas and attacking them.

District Attorney Kamala Harris has never filed a death penalty case, saying she opposes capital punishment. Her office said it will await a committee review, typically conducted after the preliminary hearing, to decide whether to seek the death penalty against Francis.

The DNA examination division of the police department’s crime lab is currently being reviewed by state investigators. Its drug investigation unit was shut down last month when a technician was alleged to be skimming cocaine and OxyContin that was retained as evidence.


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