Announcements & News

August 2008

Marshall University Forensic Science Center provides the Huntington Police Department DNA analysis on property crimes in collaboration with state and local law enforcement and prosecutors

The Marshall University Forensic Science Center is providing DNA analysis on evidence from property crimes for the Huntington Police Department in a collaborative effort with the West Virginia State Police, and Cabell County and Wayne County prosecutors.The agencies joined forces to investigate and prosecute property crimes within the jurisdiction of the Huntington Police Department. The partnership is under a one-year agreement called the Huntington Property Crime Initiative to determine the short and long-term benefits of DNA testing in helping to identify a suspect(s) in a property crime and whether multiple property crimes can be linked to a single perpetrator.

The Forensic Science Center, part of Marshall’s medical school, is providing the forensic DNA testing services for the project at no cost through federal funding secured by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd. Terry W. Fenger, Ph.D., director of the center, said Marshall University has the capabilities to provide the forensic testing that benefits the local community because of Senator Byrd’s support.

“Thanks to Senator Byrd, we’ve been able to develop the infrastructure of the DNA laboratories, and we are now recognized as a national resource providing DNA testing and training to state and local forensic crime labs across the nation,” Fenger said.

Huntington Police Department field evidence technicians will evaluate each case and determine if the evidence qualifies for DNA analysis. If it does, they will collect evidence at the scene of property crime and deliver it to the Forensic Science Center, which will perform DNA analysis. If a DNA profile is obtained from the evidence, the name of the individual is unknown at this point.

DNA results will be forwarded by the Forensic Science Center to the West Virginia State Police for submission to the COmbined DNA Index System (CODIS) database that contains DNA profiles of convicted offenders and missing persons. If there is a match between the evidence sample’s DNA profile and an individual’s DNA profile in the CODIS database, the Huntington Police Department will be provided with that lead. The county prosecutors will determine the course of prosecution.

“The HPD is very excited to partner with Marshall for such an important program. Property crime is a significant problem, not only in Huntington, but the entire region. The Huntington Property Crime Initiative will certainly enhance the investigative process and allow detectives to link and clear cases that would normally remain unsolved,” said Huntington Police Chief W. H. “Skip” Holbrook.

The information gained from Huntington’s Property Crime Initiative will be analyzed with a companion study involving two other law enforcement agencies to determine the success rates of using property crime DNA testing to identify perpetrators from three target populations. As part of the project, the

Forensic Science Center also has been providing forensic DNA testing to the Miami-Dade Police Department, a large metropolitan area, and a consortium of law enforcement agencies in Charleston, S.C., a medium metropolitan area. Forensic Science Center DNA Laboratory Technical Leader Jason Chute said that typically across the country, DNA testing of violent crimes takes priority over DNA testing of property crimes in state and local labs because of limited resources. “It is assumed that perpetrators who commit property crimes tend to be repeat offenders and eventually escalate into committing violent crimes,” Chute said. “The goals of these projects are to provide investigative leads and assist in solving crimes.”

This project was supported by cooperative agreement 2005-MU-BX-K020 awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Dept. of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Dept. of Justice.