Stored in a cold, tightly secured vault at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation headquarters are almost 20,000 swabs taken in sexual assault cases decades ago, in the years before DNA matching became a viable crime-fighting tool.
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DNA is unique to everyone, except identical twins. It is a genetic marker more precise than fingerprints that is in every part of every body — in tissue, blow, hair, skin and bodily fluids.
The FBI maintains the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, in which stores DNA profiles submitted by state and local law enforcement nationwide. It is through that system that law enforcement agencies and prosecutors have confirmed suspects’ roles in crimes and identified suspects who, until then, were unknown.
The science is so advanced now that even old or degraded samples of fluids or other DNA evidence is accepted unchallenged in courts.
The 20,000 rape kits stored at the State Crime Lab are for cases that either pre-dated DNA or happened in the 1990s when the science was not perfected so it was of little help in bringing a case. But the Crime Lab is unable to say what it has. Bar codes have been assigned to 10,000 bags of evidence, meaning their location in the evidence room can be confirmed, as long as there is a name of a victim or suspect. In other 10,000 cases, lab staff must search through the thousands of bags of evidence, looking for the name of the case on the outside.
What we know about the 10,000 rape kits that have not been cataloged — Law enforcement and the Innocent Project think there could be evidence that could exonerate the wrongly convicted or identify suspects in other unsolved crimes.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution learned of the State Crime Lab’s 20,000 rape kits stored in the basement of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation headquarters while pursuing a story about a suspected serial rapist who had been implicated in at least eight metro Atlanta rapes from the 1980s. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will continue to follow the applications for grants to catalog the evidence and if the old evidence in the kits areused to solve any cold cases or exonerated any innocent people.