News 04.10.09

Untested Evidence and Unsolved Crime

According to a new investigative report, the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department crime lab had untested biological evidence in its possession for months that could have identified a notorious serial killer and possibly prevented as many as seven murders. The North Scottsdale Times story, “

Justice Delayed

,” alleges that the Phoenix police lab conducted preliminary testing in a sexual assault believed to be connected to a crime spree but then failed to conduct follow-up tests or request outside assistance from labs capable of conducting more advanced forms of testing.

In 2006, nine months after the sexual assault, the unknown “Baseline Killer” suspect was believed to have committed seven additional murders.  The Phoenix lab then asked the state crime lab to conduct further testing on the partially tested sex assault evidence. According to media reports, the DNA profile matched a man who had served 13 years in prison for aggravated assault, armed robbery and kidnapping. The man, Mark Goudeau, is now charged with 15 sexual assaults and nine murders.

Despite a new $34 million crime lab, the Phoenix Police Department is still facing an enormous backlog of cases to be tested, and it routinely takes three months to conduct DNA testing. Some observers have alleged that the lab has failed to learn from mistakes and attempted to cover up its failure to request outside assistance in the Baseline Killer case.

Billy Coleman, a representative for the (police) department’s union, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, says rather than addressing and correcting the problems, the Phoenix Police Department is ignoring the situation by dismissing complaints from investigators and even going as far as to punish detectives who speak negatively about the lab.

“Those people did not deserve to die. I think we could have saved one or as many as seven if we would have just done it right,” an emotional Coleman says, pounding his fist on the desk.


Read the full story here

. (Times Publications, 04/09/09)

The Innocence Project doesn’t evaluate the performance of particular labs, and has not independently confirmed these media reports. We do, however, support a recommendation from the

National Academy of Sciences

to create a new federal agency that would direct comprehensive research and evaluation in the forensic sciences, establish scientifically validated standards and oversee their consistent application nationwide.

Crime lab backlogs and untested evidence can allow cold cases to remain unsolved while perpetrators commit additional crimes, and they can also lead to wrongful convictions – when exculpatory evidence sits untested, the wrong person could be convicted of a crime based on circumstantial evidence.

 

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