Department of Justice Seal
Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
DNA Grant Announcements
Pittsburgh, PA
September 20, 2004 - 11:15 am

Good morning.

In late 1997 and early 1998, citizens of the East End of Pittsburgh lived in fear of Lawrence Thornhill.

Thornhill was breaking into homes, terrorizing victims, and stealing cash and other valuables. During his rampage, he tied up three women, raped, and sodomized them. He then warned his victims that he or his friends would come back for revenge against them or their children if they dared say a word to the police.

When one of the victims reported the attack to police, Thornhill did return. As his victim, a schoolteacher, begged for her life, he showed no mercy and pulled the trigger. The bullet did not penetrate her skull. She managed to crawl to a neighbor for help.

Thanks to the hard work of police and prosecutors, Lawrence Thornhill is now behind bars. In 1999, he was convicted for the crimes of breaking into three different women's homes as they slept and attacking them sexually. He had also been convicted of 30 burglaries in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Lawrence Thornhill is now serving 50 to 100 years in jail.

Thornhill was convicted of this predatory streak of violence because of DNA, left at the crime scenes, which was collected and analyzed.

The case of Lawrence Thornhill is evidence of the value of DNA analysis and forensic science in fighting crime.

We have seen time and time again the important contributions DNA analysis can bring to the justice community. DNA analysis helps identify the guilty. It helps vindicate the innocent. And, at times, it can bring a sense of peace and justice to victims and families, even after cases seem to have gone cold and hope was all they had left.

The United States Department of Justice is committed to making DNA analysis and cutting-edge forensic science a routine and affordable tool for state and local law enforcement to use in the fight against crime.

Today, I am pleased to announce the first of the Justice Department's grants under the President's DNA initiative.

The President's "Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology" Initiative seeks to provide $1 billion over five years to use DNA identification to solve crimes and to eliminate the backlogs at state and local labs.

Today, we begin the direction of nearly $149 million from this initiative to help state and local criminal justice systems with DNA and forensic analysis.

Here in Pennsylvania, these grants will total more than $3 million to help state and local criminal justice improve DNA and forensic analysis.

Many state and local labs are overburdened and many may not have the full capabilities state and local law enforcement require. This is why we are working so hard to provide assistance to state and local labs. We believe that this federal leadership and these resources will yield impressive national results by meeting real, local needs.

The justice community faces two significant DNA backlogs: a convicted-offender backlog and a forensic-casework backlog.

With these DNA grants, we believe that state and local law enforcement can begin to address these backlogs, identify the offenders, and prosecute them for their crimes.

Earlier this month, we saw new evidence from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, showing that our nation is succeeding in the fight against crime. We are holding violent crime rates to record 30-year lows. This demonstrates that when the justice community gets the resources, tools, and strategic focus to take down career offenders, we can make our neighborhoods safer.

We know we can do even better.

A major factor in our winning crime formula is the common-sense notion that criminals behind bars cannot commit crimes in the community.

Thanks to DNA analysis, forensic scientists are now able to turn seemingly invisible samples of forensic evidence into ironclad cases against the worst offenders. For instance:

Across the country, we have seen critical DNA evidence come from a few cigarette butts, from a child victim's blood on the baby blanket in the offender's possession, and from underneath a victim's fingernails after she fought her assailant in terror.

Even in the most tragic cases, when victims have been silenced, forensic science is not silent. The President's initiative recognizes that with the right resources, the distinctive double helix of DNA can form the final turn in the case against predators.

The nearly $100 million in grants from the DNA initiative is nearly twice the amount of last year's funding.

Finally, under the President's initiative, the Justice Department will direct $2 million to aid in DNA testing for solving missing-persons cases. We hope that these additional funds will help bring peace and resolution to families with missing loved ones.

This record support builds on previous Justice Department efforts. In fiscal year 2002, DOJ made 25 awards to agencies in 24 states and Puerto Rico totaling over $28.5 million for the combined purposes of performing DNA analysis of crime scene evidence and DNA laboratory capacity building.

In fiscal year 2003, DOJ made 39 awards to agencies in 39 states totaling over $39.7 million for the combined purposes of performing DNA analysis of crime scene evidence and DNA laboratory capacity building.

In addition, the Justice Department also distributed $18.7 million in fiscal year 2003 for the DNA analysis of samples taken from convicted offenders. The total amount of funding to states over the past two years is more than $86 million.

Forensic science plays no favorites. It cuts through prejudice. It validates truth. And it reminds us that by targeting our resources carefully, we can speed the arrest of criminals, cut short the careers of repeat offenders, and prevent crime from taking away the liberties of the law abiding.

Thank you.

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