Local News

No End In Sight For State's DNA Testing Backlog

Posted September 2, 2004 8:26 a.m. EDT

— DNA evidence is piling up on shelves at the State Bureau of Investigation.

The SBI has so many cases, they are years behind. The backlog is holding up trials and justice for victims, their families and the accused.

WRAL has been investigating the SBI backlog problems for years when it comes to DNA testing. Law officers, lawyers -- even judges -- say the problem is getting bigger.

Many say the backlog is making it difficult to get cases tried.

Robert Petrick was charged with killing his wife, Janine Sutphen, more than a year ago. His attorney, Mark Edwards, does not expect the case to head to court for at least another year.

"We're still waiting for analysis of the computers seized from his home," Edwards said. "It just seems to take forever to get basic materials back from the SBI."

The Petrick case is not unique.

It turns out there are hundreds of cases stacking up in the offices of district attorneys across the Triangle.

Orange and Chatham County District Attorney Carl Fox says some drug offenders wait longer for their case to go to trial than any sentence they might receive.

"Some of these drug cases will get six to nine months, maybe a year old, before you get lab results and that hurts, because there's so many of them," Fox said.

SBI Director Robin Pendergraft is concerned, too. She says 500 to 1,000 cases are submitted to the lab every week and admits the agency is finding it hard to keep up.

"The work isn't slowing down, and with the increase in population, there's another increase there," she said.

Pendergraft also said there is a staff shortage in all the crime labs.

Between 1998 and 2003, one-third of the SBI workforce retired.

Pendergraft said the backlog is unacceptable.

"We should have a turnaround time of 30 days or less," she said.

Pendergraft said there has been progress in the genetics lab. New agents have been brought on board and are making headway with the backlog of rape kits.

She said the bottom line is they need more funding from the state, and until they get it, they will make due with what they have.