PREPARED REMARKS OF ATTORNEY GENERAL JOHN ASHCROFT
March 11, 2003
(Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)
From 1991 to 1999, a vicious predator murdered three young women in New York City and raped four others. The crimes were horrific - one young woman's body was found burning on a rooftop. Without the use of DNA evidence, investigators might never have identified Arohn Kee as the rapist and murderer of the young women, who ranged in age from 13 to 19.
After arresting Kee on an unrelated petty theft charge, forensic analysts were able to match his DNA to the evidence from the crimes. Although Kee denied any involvement in the assaults, police became suspicious and tested a drinking glass Kee left behind. Based on the DNA evidence, Kee was arrested, found guilty on 22 counts, and sentenced to 400 years in prison.
Kee actually had been convicted of robbery in the first degree in the early nineties, at a time when New York did not collect DNA samples from criminals convicted of robberies. If Kee had been required to provide a DNA sample then, he might have been identified and arrested much earlier. At least one of the murders and two of the rapes may have been prevented.
I had an opportunity to meet with President Bush earlier today to discuss the President's new DNA Initiative, entitled: "Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology." The President is committed to realizing the full potential of DNA technology to solve crime and protect the innocent.
The President has proposed $232.6 million in federal funding in fiscal year '04 for this initiative and calls for continuing this level of funding for five years - a total commitment of over $1 billion. Under the President's initiative, we will improve the use of DNA technology in the criminal justice system - especially in federal, state and local forensic laboratories - by providing funds, training and assistance.
In particular, this initiative will allow law enforcement to:
- Analyze rape kits and other "cold case" evidence that has gone unexamined for years,
- Conduct DNA analysis of more offender samples,
- Solve more crimes through efficient and effective use of DNA-improved technology,
- Identify missing persons through enhanced DNA testing methods, and
- Help exonerate individuals wrongly accused or convicted of crimes.
First, the President's initiative will use DNA technology more effectively to solve more crimes and convict the guilty:
DNA evidence can breathe new life into long dormant investigations. Already, evidence has identified hundreds of murderers and rapists nationwide. I know there are some very courageous survivors here with us today, who were finally able to see justice done when DNA testing identified their perpetrators.
One such survivor is Kellie Greene. In 1994, Kellie was viciously attacked and raped in her apartment. At the time of her rape, Florida did not analyze DNA in "no suspect" cases. After more than three years, the DNA was analyzed and a match was made with the profile of David William Shaw, who had a prior felony record. By the time Kellie's rape kit was finally tested, Shaw was already serving a 25-year sentence for beating and raping another woman. Shaw's attack on the other woman had occurred just weeks before his assault on Kellie.
Another survivor and champion of DNA testing with us here today is Debbie Smith, who waited six years before Norman Jimmerson, a current inmate in a Virginia prison, was identified as her attacker through DNA. Debbie testified against Jimmerson, who is now serving two life sentences plus 25 years with no chance of parole.
We can solve more crimes through DNA testing by eliminating the substantial backlog of DNA samples for the most serious violent offenses, as well as the backlog of convicted offender samples that have not yet been tested.
- The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) estimates that the current backlog of rape and homicide cases - alone - is approximately 350,000.
- NIJ also estimates that there are between 200,000 and 300,000 collected, untested convicted offender samples.
- In addition, we estimate there are between 500,000 and 1,000,000 convicted offender samples, which have not yet been collected as required by law.
The President has directed the Department to eliminate the backlogs completely within 5 years, and we will do so.
The national Combined DNA Index System, CODIS, has 1.4 million DNA profiles of convicted offenders, almost half of which resulted from the federal government's prior efforts to help states reduce the backlog. Between 2001 and 2002, the number of crime scene samples matched to convicted offender samples jumped from 2200 to almost 5000. This translates into thousands of crimes solved, rapists and murderers caught, and fewer victims.
In addition, we will solve more crimes by expanding crime lab capacity to test DNA. Crime laboratories face rapidly increasing workloads and increased DNA analysis demands. We must increase the labs' capacity to handle current demands and simultaneously reduce the backlog.
Today, there are more than 130 public crime labs capable of conducting DNA testing, but fewer than 10% have the automated facilities needed to conduct efficient testing. Employing basic technology used every day in supermarkets nationwide such as bar-coding, robots, and advanced computer support, will allow law enforcement to solve more crimes with advanced technology.
We also will solve more crimes by stimulating research and developing new technology to test DNA. Already, scientists are at work finding faster, better, and more economical methods to conduct DNA analysis. [AG HOLDS UP CHIP] This piece of glass is a prototype microchip, developed with funding by the Department of Justice. This microchip will permit scientists to analyze 8 DNA samples simultaneously in under 20 minutes.
Our efforts will also be directed to training more criminal justice professionals to understand the full potential of DNA testing. By providing our nation's law enforcement officials with training in the new or little-known ways DNA evidence may help solve the crimes in their communities, we can work to ensure more crimes are solved. Evidence invisible to the naked eye can be the key to solving a residential burglary, sexual assault, or murder. The saliva on the stamp of a stalker's threatening letter or the perspiration on a rapist's mask may hold the key to solving a crime, as well as bringing justice to the offender and some peace to the victim and her family.
In Texas, for example, an investigator solved the rape of a local college student by requesting DNA testing on the phone cord used to choke the woman. A reliable DNA profile was developed from the phone cord and helped solve the case. It also linked the perpetrator to a similar sexual assault in another city. Without the investigator's knowledge of the crime-solving possibilities of DNA evidence, the case might have never been solved and the perpetrator might still be free.
Second, this initiative will provide greater access to DNA technology to those who may have been wrongly accused or convicted:
Under the President's initiative, we will not only speed the prosecution of the guilty, but also protect the innocent from wrongful prosecution. DNA technology allows us to exclude innocent people as suspects early on, allowing police to focus on finding the true perpetrator. Further, the initiative will provide access to post-conviction DNA testing for state or federal inmates who may have been convicted wrongly. The initiative also establishes a grant program to assist states in providing post-conviction testing.
We look forward to working with the Chairmen of both the House and the Senate Judiciary Committees to develop legislation that provides appropriate post-conviction DNA testing to federal inmates.
Third, this initiative will increase the use of DNA evidence to identify missing persons:
The events of September 11, 2001, demonstrated on a national scale the potential for anguish when the remains of a missing person go unidentified. In order to help provide closure for families of missing persons, the President's initiative provides education and outreach to medical examiners, coroners, law enforcement officers, and victims' families on the use of DNA to identify missing persons.
Today, we are privileged to have John Walsh with us - a man who turned his own family's tragedy into tireless victim advocacy for families of missing and murdered children.
Finally, in addition to announcing the President's DNA initiative, I am pleased to announce the Administration's support for several legislative proposals to improve the criminal justice system's use of DNA to solve crimes:
All 50 states and the federal government require that DNA samples be collected from some offenders. However, only 23 states require that DNA samples be collected from all convicted criminals. It should come as no surprise that the 23 states that add aggressively to their convicted offenders database have many more matches and solve more crimes than states that conduct more limited sampling.
For example, Virginia has been collecting DNA from all felons since 1990 and has a convicted offender database with over 189,000 DNA profiles. They have been able to solve 90 homicides and 196 non-homicide sexual assaults. Approximately 82% of the total 1,070 matches to date would have been missed if the database were limited to only violent offenders and did not include other criminals.
The state of Florida has had similar success - solving 75 homicides and 373 sexual assaults through DNA testing. Forty-five percent of the state's matches were for offenders whose DNA was collected based on burglary convictions.
We will encourage states to pass legislation to expand their DNA collection to include all convicted offenders, and we are working with Chairman Hatch, Chairman Sensenbrenner and others in Congress to craft legislation that will enable us to include in the federal database all DNA samples properly collected under the laws of all the states.
On a national level, the Department of Justice is also announcing today a proposed DNA Sampling Rule, which allows collection of DNA from thousands of criminals convicted of federal crimes of violence and terrorism offenses.
Clearly, DNA has the power to convict the guilty and protect the innocent in a way that will improve dramatically the efficacy of the criminal justice system. I look forward to implementing the President's DNA initiative and I thank all of the state, local, and federal criminal justice experts who have joined me here today, and who are essential to the success of this initiative. In particular, I would like to thank the experts who have served at my request on a task force on these issues, for providing recommendations that have been incorporated into this initiative. I thank you for seeking and serving justice.
[Fact Sheet 1]
[Fact Sheet 2]
[Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology]