Raleigh, N.C. — The State Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab is getting bigger and, officials say, better and faster. An addition to the lab opened Tuesday on Tryon Road.
The new space will house SBI experts who will analyze crime-scene evidence, reducing a backlog in handling DNA samples and other evidence. In 2001, the SBI solved 26 cases with DNA matches. So far this year, more than 270 cases have been solved.
When WRAL visited the SBI Crime Lab in 2002, frustration was abundant. Five DNA analysts handled evidence for the entire state. The backlog was so long, the SBI refused to take rape cases if there were no known suspects.
“We were not giving them justice, and it was eating at myself and all the state staff up here,” SBI agent Mark Nelson said.
The backlog left thousands of rape kits abandoned on law enforcement shelves across the state.
“We've made great strides over the last few years,” North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said.
Five and a half years later, Cooper and other state leaders marked the turnaround by dedicating the new 22,000-square-foot addition to the lab. Instead of five DNA analysts, there are 27, with 12 more being hired. The lab is able to take every rape kit submitted. The average processing time is 60 days.
“Today, we have much more capability to work these cases as soon as they come in the front door,” SBI agent Mark Goodee said.
The law also changed so all convicted felons and stalkers must submit to DNA testing. The bigger database means more crimes get solved.
“We have had more murderers and rapists caught during the first six months of this year than we did during the first 10 years of the DNA program,” Cooper said.
The DNA database has also exonerated the innocent. Long-forgotten DNA led authorities to free Dwayne Allen Dail last month, after he spent 18 years in prison for a child rape he didn't commit.
“Our goal for all cases throughout the laboratory system is 30 days or less. That's what we're all shooting for,” Jerry Richardson, director of the SBI Crime Lab, said.
The goal is still a tall order. Currently, drug evidence takes about five months to process, leaving some district attorneys grumbling.
The bottom line, though, is that a larger staff and better technology is helping the SBI solve more crimes.
The expansion has not just been in the DNA lab either. The crime lab had 78 employees in 2001. Thanks to funding from the General Assembly, the staff has grown to 137 employees.
Construction of the $5.7 million crime lab expansion began last year and was completed this month.