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$5.2M Will Help SBI Expand DNA Testing, Computer Forensics

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RALEIGH, N.C. — An expansion of the State Bureau of Investigation's Crime Lab facilities means the agency will be able to accommodate more testing and personnel, leading to quicker turnaround time for DNA and drug testing, as well as computer forensics.

The General Assembly awarded $5.2 million to the North Carolina Department of Justice to expand the facilities by 22,000 square feet and to its testing by adding 17 analysts.

"Technology is critical to fighting crime and keeping the public safe," state Attorney General Roy Cooper said Thursday at an event to mark the start of the expansion. "We are using DNA not only to convict the guilty but to exonerate the innocent, and we are using it to put murderers and rapists behind bars where they belong."

In the past year alone, SBI officials have had 168 DNA hits on cold cases at the lab, more than what they had the past decade.

"We're getting hit after hit after hit," Cooper said. "That means we're arresting criminal after criminal after criminal."

DNA testing has been the key to arresting many suspects connected to unsolved crimes, including Drew Planten, who was arrested last October for the May 2002 rape and homicide of 23-year-old Stephanie Bennett.

"We have made tremendous strides from where we were three years ago," said Robin Pendergraft, the SBI director, noting that the agency has been able to cut down on its turnaround time on DNA testing to less than 60 days.

With the advances, the SBI has been able to look at every one of the Raleigh Police Department's 801 rape kits that they think may have a DNA link. There is no longer a backlog. With the expansion, the SBI hopes to continue this trend.

"We will be able to obviously process more cases, have quicker turnaround time and the ability to solve criminal cases faster," said Pendergraft.


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