Florida is expecting a budget surplus this year. Legislative leaders have suggested that money should be earmarked for education or handed back to Floridians in the form of tax breaks. But the state’s attorney general is hoping some of that money will be used to support the testing of what she estimates are thousands of untested DNA samples stacking up in crime labs.
Years ago, as a young woman living in Orlando, Kellie Green was beaten and raped by a person who broke into her home. Green didn’t know who attacked her. And police didn’t have many leads. As a victim, she says waiting for answers is tough. And she says that’s why DNA testing is important.
“So that they can continue living in their communities without having to look over their shoulder, without having to wonder is that the person who raped me standing in front of me in line at the grocery store, or sitting behind me at the movie theater, or if I’m going out at night without my friends, is he in this club,” Green says.
Green says DNA evidence is what eventually helped her find answers. She remembers meeting the detective assigned to her case in the detective’s office three years after her attack.
“And I remember she slid across a photo lineup of six individuals and I looked at that photo lineup and I couldn’t pick out the person who had raped me. And finally she pointed at the photo and she said that’s him right there. And I said how do we know. DNA. The only reason I know who raped and beat me on January 18th of 1994 is because of DNA,” Green says.
Attorney General Pam Bondi says the state has committed $300,000 to study how the testing of DNA evidence is handled. But she says that’s only the beginning of what’s needed.
“We have the potential to solve thousands of cases and be proactive not only here in Florida, but also throughout the country. So that’s why that is one of our top legislative priorities this year,” Bondi says.
Bondi says there are countless reasons some DNA samples remain untested. Priority is one – for example, a murder case might get priority over a less violent crime. Or one sample from a crime scene might come back with a match and conviction so the remaining samples, which could have come from someone else, might go untested. Bondi says it’s important to ensure there’s funding to get those tests done and done right. And she says that means offering competitive pay for the state’s lab employees.
“You know, it’s hard to compete now with the private sector and our analysts are incredible and they’re doing this work because they care about our state, so we’ve got to work hard to get more qualified analysts, to keep the ones we have and to ensure that we have enough labs throughout the state of Florida,” Bondi says.
It’s a goal lawmakers including House Majority Leader, Rep Dana Young (R-Tampa) support. Young says she wants to help victims get closure.
“The victims of rape, and there are so many have already been dealt such an injustice and now by getting these tests reviewed and getting the evidence into a national DNA database, we can finally give these woman the justice that they deserve,” Young says.
And Rep. Representative Janet Adkins (R-Fernandina Beach) says she’s working on legislation she hopes will help.
Meanwhile, the day after Bondi’s announcement, the U.S. Justice Department and Manhattan District Attorney’s office pledged grants to law enforcement agencies across the country, including several in Florida, that will be used to help clear the back log of untested DNA evidence related to sexual assaults.