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SBI Says It Will Catch Up On Backlogged DNA Tests By May

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Backlogged DNA Samples
RALEIGH, N.C. — A WRAL investigation revealed Friday that thousands of rape kits have been sitting on shelves for years waiting to be processed.

On Friday, Robin Pendergraft, the director of the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation, told WRAL that she has set a goal of one month for the DNA lab to be caught up.

"We will be able to say we've eliminated the backlog," she said.

That backlog snowballed because the SBI labs were severely understaffed.

In 2001, the state had just five DNA analysts. Today, six times as many are employed and they are working to get the last rape kit off the shelf and into the lab by next month.

Scientists are in high demand at the SBI. Of the 28 new agents sworn in during a ceremony Friday, eight will go to the state's crime lab, and six of those will work solely on DNA cases.

They will work on the rape kits that sat untested on shelves for years. Jennifer Leyn worked in the SBI lab before becoming an agent. She knows how much work needs to be done, and how quickly the lab is expected to do it.

"Before, we didn't have the manpower to do the things we wanted to do," said Leyn. "We had a lot of rape cases where there was no suspect, and we couldn't do anything to help them. Now we can."

Last year, 64 of the backlogged rape kits that were tested led to matches in a DNA database started in 2003. Dozens of those have led to arrests that otherwise would not have been made. There is still plenty of work to be done. In murder cases, DNA analysis can take up to one year.

Pendergraft said she wants that down to 30 days, but was not able to say when that might happen.

A law enacted in December 2003 helped solve some of the rape cases. It requires any convicted felon to submit DNA samples to the state's database to run against the rape kits.

Right now, there are 54,000 samples in the system.

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